START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
Nov 21, 2012

Why the holiday suicide myth persistsUpdated 11/29/2009 7:21 PM |  Comments 39  |  Recommend 9E-mail | Print |

Enlarge image EnlargeBy Alejandro Gonzalez, USA TODAY

Suicides are not more common around the holidays. They can happen at any time, and they claim 31,000 lives in the USA each year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says. If you are thinking about suicide or are worried about someone else, you can get help 24 hours a day by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

For more information,


    • Share

    • Subscribe

You could blame George Bailey. In the 1946 holiday film It's a Wonderful Life, that fictional character contemplated suicide on Christmas Eve, possibly giving birth to the idea that suicides climb during the winter holidays.

But moviemaker Frank Capra had it wrong: Study after study shows no such link; in fact, suicide numbers peak in the spring and may even dip in December, according to the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, the holiday suicide myth has amazing staying power.

For the past decade, Dan Romer, a researcher at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, has been tracking mentions of suicide and the holiday season in stories published in U.S. newspapers from mid-November to mid-January. His first study, covering the 1999 holiday season, found that just 23% of stories debunked the myth and the rest reinforced it. By 2006, 91% of stories debunked the myth, and Romer took some credit: Publicizing the facts had nearly killed the myth, he thought.

He was wrong. In the 2007 season, the myth was back in half of stories, he says. And Romer just completed his analysis of 2008 holiday coverage. He found that 38% of stories supported the myth and 62% debunked it – an improvement he attributes partly to a myth-busting report published last December in the British Medical Journal.

He can't explain why nearly four in 10 stories still linked suicide and the holidays. "No one does it maliciously," he says. "I think they are trying to help people."

But the myth may harm people instead.

"It might unnecessarily put people on their guard or increase their anxiety," says Ronald Pies, a psychiatrist at Tufts University School of Medicine, via e-mail. Worse, he says, some people "on the brink" of self-harm might feel encouraged to follow through when they read or hear that holiday suicides are common. The myth might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Romer agrees: "You don't want to convey the message that this is acceptable or that there's a good reason to do it."

But why does this particular myth persist?

One reason may be that the holidays fall during a time of year that can be trying for many people, says Paula Clayton, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. People with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) tend to become depressed as days get shorter and darker. They come out of their depression in the spring.

Meanwhile, some people do suffer short-term blues linked directly to the hubbub and stress of the holidays, she says. People in mourning for a loved one can feel especially sad as special days come and go without that person, she says.

Pies adds: "I certainly would expect that, in the present financial crisis, the usual blues would be intensified for many families facing loss of savings, unemployment, etc."

But, experts say, suicide is almost always the act of someone who has endured deep depression or another mental illness for months or years – not someone with a passing case of the blues.

The holiday suicide myth may detract attention from the real needs of people who might consider suicide at any time of year, Clayton says: "There are a lot of untreated people out there."

Meanwhile, researchers continue to look for the real patterns in suicidal behavior, says Alexander Crosby, a CDC researcher. "That can help us in terms of finding protective factors," he says.

And one protective factor, he says, is "connectiveness" – that is, how connected people are to friends, families and communities.

Fittingly enough, that was the very thing (along with an angel) that saved George Bailey after all.

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Wednesday November 21, 2012, 6:16 pm
Tags: [add/edit tags]

Group Discussions
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:


Cheryl O.
female , committed relationship, 1 child
Lincoln, IL, USA
(0 comments  |  discussions )
\nA series of explosions in the skies of Russia\'s Urals region, reportedly caused by a meteor shower, has sparked panic in three major cities. Witnesses said that houses shuddered, windows were blown out and cellphones stopped working. Atmospheric phen...
(0 comments  |  discussions )
\nThis is a story of a dog who was rescued after Hurricane Katrina who was adopted by the patients of Heritage Manor where my grandfather in law lives. This story will make you smile and refresh your soul. After all we live in a world today where we ha...
(0 comments  |  discussions )
Tomorrow is my moms birthday. Her 12th birthday without her. I made her a video, wrote her a poem and wrote a short story. Please friends have a look! http://myopini 3/01/in-memory-of-my-moth er-ellen-wallner.html
(0 comments  |  discussions )
\nPublished by Cheryl CherMyOpinion/The Madness of Silence\r\nJanuary 20, 2013\r\n \r\nOn September 11, 2001 this country lost 2,996 people. Some say this was the most tragic day in United States history. Suppose you have six jets go down every single d...

(1 comments  |  discussions )
\\nZEN was suspended by Eric with no warning. We don\\\'t know any reasons nor how long it will last....\\r\\nI asked about it on the forum but my post was immediately deleted. 2 threads and petitions about Zen also. And 2 her help-groups. :-(\\r\\nUntill to...
(2 comments  |  discussions )
\\nThe HORD has begun its own orphanage Primary School in March 2010 in the rural Bussiwa village in kamuli district.  People live in small grass hatched houses, often large families in one room.  The people who live in these rural villages a...
by Kit B.
(72 comments  |  discussions )
\\nEach of the names below have signed the petition Stop Government Sponsored Horse and Animal Theft. A petition which we now know to be posted with the appearance of animal welfare when in fact the actual purpose is very different as the last paragrap...
(0 comments  |  discussions )
\\nBelow is South Of France\\\'s response to my e-mail of yesterday. Much as Jordan\\\'s cereal has decided, South of France states it will not cease using Palm Oil. I include my response to them at the bottom of their e-mail.\\r\\n\\r\\n\\r\\n \\r\\nSOF soaps and ...
(0 comments  |  discussions )
\\nI recently just sent an e-mail to South of France soaps; one of my favorite products. Upon reading the label I found that they use palm oil. Below is a copy of the e-mail I just sent them.\\r\\nIf you wish to contact them and urge them to cease using ...

Mar 31
Message: what's going on?... by Apolonia P.
(1 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nZEN was suspended by Eric with no warning. We don\\\'t know any reasons nor how long it will last....\\r\\nI asked about it on the forum but my post was immediately deleted. 2 threads and petitions about Zen also. And 2 her help-groups. :-(\\r\\nUntill to... more
Feb 17
Message: Petitions that stop abuse to the speechless by Aza a.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nCan someone please tell me why petitions that want to end animal abuse,end the on going pain being inflected on the poor helpless animals. Paim that only ends when the animal dies.\\r\\nIs it that the 23 plus million members don\\\'t care or understand ... more
Message: Thanks by Gail B.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nThank you all for the warm welcome, still learn how to use the site.\\r\\nMay the grounds you set your feet upon be blessed every step of the way.\\n more
Feb 15
Message: My Daughter's Friend Needs Help by Cameron F.
(0 comments  |  discussions ) — \\nThis is Venus Marquez\\\'s friend, Gina Arellano. Venus is a friend of my daughter Nikka.  She seems to be covered in rashes/sores due to possibly chickenpox and needs to raise at least 200 Euros - about $275 US - to cover medical expenses.\\r\\nIf... more
Feb 13
Message: Free Puppy Ads In Terrifying Abundance! by Karen O.
(0 comments  |  0 discussions ) — I was so upset, when on my homepage, in the news section...there appearred, all sorts of advertisements all over, for free puppies...these are surely going to reappear in the future,  as horrific abuse cases.  What is wrong with people? Do t... more
Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.