The Myth of Holiday Suicide
The myth of holiday suicide is one of the most stubborn myths related to mental illness. Because it’s now officially the holiday season, I want to take this opportunity to do my part to bust the most stubborn myth. Most of you have probably heard there is a significant increase in suicides during the holiday season; however, as the title of this post suggests, this is a myth. Suicide rates are actually lower than average during the holidays, with their peaks occurring in the spring and fall.1 While most people probably don’t think much of the myth, dismissing it as another old wives tale tenaciously hanging on to relevance, I’m much more disturbed by it, and feel the holiday suicide myth needs to be addressed with some degree of urgency.
Why the Holiday Suicide Myth Is Dangerous
Aside from the fact that the statistic isn’t true, and spreading falsehoods, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is detrimental to society, I argue that the perpetuation of the holiday suicide myth is profoundly harmful to those who are actually suicidal.
Consider people who are suicidal and disclose their state of mind. Whoever they’re talking to often returns this statistic to them. What does this say? For one, it says the only thing that’s known about their state of mind is an urban legend. Second, it discredits their feelings by suggesting their suicidal thoughts are somehow explained away by being a part of this illusory group of other holiday suicides. Third, it demonstrates, once again, that we really don’t care to talk about suicide – the only way we feel comfortable bringing it up is in the context of a false social narrative. For anyone truly suicidal, this is a slap in the face, and it would have been better for that person to have heard nothing.
How to Counter the Myth of Holiday Suicide
Instead of retaining the harmful, long-discounted myth of holiday suicides, let me instead provide some actual truth. A study conducted by the Australian National University studied 7,845 participants over four years, in an attempt to document the effects of anxiety and depression with regards to suicidal ideation. Anxiety was linked to a 23 percent increase of suicidal ideation – a 7 percent greater risk than even those diagnosed with major depression.2
This is what we should be taking away. Anxiety is not, as many people falsely assume, a simple increase in feelings of stress – it’s a potentially debilitating mental illness whose links to suicide are much stronger than we would like to admit.
Those who are anxious and suicidal don’t have the luxury of waiting for the specific time of year when we’re somehow more open to discussing their mental health. Those who are suicidal are suffering – every minute of every day, they are suffering. Why we don’t feel compelled to do more to help every minute of every day is a tragedy, and its reasons are beyond the scope of this blog. Nevertheless, it is enough of a first step for us to acknowledge their presence, and to make a concerted effort to do what we can to help.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Holiday Suicides: Fact or Myth? December 31, 2013.
- Hicks, Jesse, "It's a Myth That Suicide Rates Increase During The Holidays". Tonic. December 8, 2017.
DeSalvo, T. (2018, December 5). The Myth of Holiday Suicide, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/12/the-myth-of-holiday-suicide