The winter holiday season, which includes Christmas and New Year's, is often associated with feelings of joy, love, and happiness. However, there is a widespread belief that suicide rates increase during the holidays, particularly in December and January. This belief is based on the idea that the stress and loneliness associated with the holidays can lead to an increase in suicides. But is it actually true?
The myth that suicide rates are highest during the winter holidays has persisted despite evidence to the contrary.
The winter holidays can be a challenging time for people with mental health issues, but there is no evidence that this leads to an increase in suicide rates.
People who are at a higher risk for suicide should receive support year-round and not just during the winter holiday season.
The myth of higher suicide rates during the holidays
Despite the persistence of this belief, there is no consistent evidence to support the idea of higher holiday suicide rates. In fact, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates in 2021 were among the lowest in December and January, with rates being highest in August. Although the monthly suicide rates vary by year, there is no suggestion that they spike during the winter holiday season.
While the winter holidays can be a challenging time for many individuals, suicides are a complex issue that can occur year-round and are not solely tied to the holiday season. Many factors, including mental health conditions, life events, and stress, can contribute to an increased risk of suicide regardless of the time of year.
It is important to note that the myth of higher holiday suicide rates is not only unsupported by the data, but it can also be harmful. The belief that suicides are more common during the holidays can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and isolation for individuals who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Additionally, it can create a false sense of security for others, leading them to overlook warning signs and neglect to take action to support those at risk.
Furthermore, the myth of holiday suicides can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas surrounding suicide and mental health. For example, the idea that holiday stress and loneliness are the main causes of suicide can oversimplify the complex and multi-faceted nature of suicidal behavior. This type of oversimplification can lead to a lack of understanding and support for those struggling with suicidal thoughts and can also discourage individuals from seeking help and treatment for mental health conditions.
Why are the holidays a challenging time for mental health?
Although the idea that suicide rates increase over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays isn’t backed by scientific evidence, these holidays can still be a challenging time for many people who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
One of the main reasons why the holidays can be challenging is the increased pressure and stress that many people experience. Between the demands of holiday shopping, cooking, and hosting, many people may feel increased stress and anxiety. The holidays can also trigger feelings of loneliness, guilt, and sadness for individuals who have lost loved ones or aren’t able to spend time with their families.
Additionally, our culture places high expectations of having a joyous, 'picture perfect' holiday season, spending time with family, and feeling happy. These expectations can be particularly difficult for people who are struggling with mental health conditions or have a history of depression, which can further exacerbate feelings of stress and isolation.
Supporting people in crisis year-round
Suicide is a year-round issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs and to know what you can do to support people in crisis.
Here are some tips for supporting those at risk for suicide:
Be aware of warning signs
Be on the lookout for signs that someone’s mental health is worsening or that they’re experiencing suicidal ideation. Look for sudden changes in behavior, like changes in sleeping patterns, avoiding social situations, loss of interest in activities, changes in mood, increased irritability, self-harm, or giving away possessions.
Check in on your loved ones, friends, colleagues, neighbors, or anyone else in your circle who might be struggling. Take time to ask how they’re doing and give them space to share. Make an extra effort to check in on people who seem 'strong' or who are always the first to help others — because of their role as helpers, they might not have many people reach out to them to offer support.
Listen and offer support
Truly listen and give them space to share how they’re doing. Try to respond with empathy, without any judgment, criticism, or unsolicited advice. Let the person know that you care and that they are not alone. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and offer support and encouragement.
In addition to the holiday-suicide myth, there is another long-standing myth that asking someone if they’re suicidal will cause them to think about or attempt suicide. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Asking someone if they’re considering or thinking about suicide can actually be a huge relief. It can help a person feel seen and understood. It can also help you connect them to resources or ensure their safety.
Encourage professional help
If the person is struggling with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, encourage them to seek professional help. Offer to assist them in finding resources, such as a mental health professional, a support group, or a crisis hotline. You could even offer to call a crisis hotline or other resource for them.
Take care of yourself
Supporting someone at risk for suicide can be emotionally and physically draining. Make sure to take care of your own physical and emotional needs, such as getting enough sleep, eating well, seeking support from friends and family, or working with a therapist.
Despite the prevailing myth that suicide rates are higher during holiday season, it is important to be vigilant of the warning signs of suicide throughout the year and seek help.
- Annenberg Public Policy Center. The Undying Holiday-Suicide Myth.