Mythbuster: Suicide Is Not More Common During the Holidays

And the media is finally getting it right.

Going "Home for the Holidays" can be chore — but it's no worse than during the rest of the year.

Going “Home for the Holidays” can be chore — but it’s no worse than during the rest of the year.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn has some good news for people who appreciate accuracy in media: Last year, for the first time in four years, there was a decrease in the number of news stories that falsely associated holiday time with suicide. Annenberg’s analysis notes that the lowest suicide rate is between mid-November and January, yet for many years the majority of news outlets tended to perpetuate the holiday-suicide myth rather than contradict it.

The idea that people feel despair during the holidays might seem to make an intuitive kind of sense, at least if you go by pop culture references to Thanksgiving misery, and holiday loneliness. But recent CDC statistics show that suicide is more common in April and May, when everyone is supposed to be happy. I think that’s because of the distance some people perceive between springtime joy and their own reality, which may not live up to the season’s expectations. Holidays, at least, often compel people to be in the company of others; there’s a collective cultural horror at the notion of someone spending the holidays alone. I mean, when else, other than holiday time, do perfect strangers get invited into the bosom of a warm family dinner? As Ella Fitzgerald sang, spring can really hang you up the most.

Yet when Annenberg began tracking press coverage of suicide and the holidays in 1999-2000, they found that 77 percent of the stories persisted in linking the two. Media coverage got more accurate on this score between 2003 and 2009, then faltered again until last year. Annenberg’s research director Daniel Romer said in a statement, “It’s encouraging to see a turnaround.” He also noted that while the writers of the erroneous articles may mean well, their stories could actually persuade people considering suicide to go through with it. He recommends that media outlets refer to for guidelines.

For confidential support if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Learn about the warning signs of suicide at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.