Are you looking out for the big Christmas suicide myth?

christmass suicideCC: Romain Lours at Unsplash

Like many people, you’ve probably heard the Christmas suicide myth more than once. Year after year, journalists will claim that suicides reach their peak during the festive period. This is despite the fact that only one Australian study provides a semi-tenuous link between Christmas and suicide.

Unlike Santa, the Christmas suicide myth is not harmless. It detracts attention from the period where suicides do rise: January. Okay, so they don’t just rise in January, but this is the point where the suicide spring peak occurs. Whether you have a mental health diagnosis or you support someone who does, it’s worth learning more about this event.

Where did the Christmas suicide myth come from?

Nobody is entirely sure where the Christmas suicide myth came from, but the CDC is quite vocal in speaking out about it. According to data from something called The Annenberg Study, suicides are at their lowest in December.

But, once all the festive cheer dies down and the year ahead begins to unfold, a rebound effect of sorts occurs. Some studies have found that suicide does have a seasonality to it, but that it tends to fall in line with when periods of fun are over.

Unfortunately, the reasons for this aren’t too well understood. Some feel as though spring and the return of longer days bring a sense of energy to suicidal intentions. Perhaps in a similar way to SSRIs. Another theory is that Christmas and similar events quash suicidal feelings, but when the afterglow is long gone there’s nothing available to act as a distraction.

Who’s at risk of the spring peak?

Now that you’re aware that the media’s version of Christmas suicide is a myth, it’s worth looking at some facts and figures. They’ll give you a rough idea of who’s at risk during the January season:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States
  • 90-percent of those who die from suicide have an underlying mental health condition
  • The rate of suicide is highest among white middle-aged men
  • Around 129 suicides take place each day
  • Firearms are involved in 51-percent of suicides.

What can you do to prevent suicide?

Whether you’re encountering Christmas suicide feelings or you’re aware that someone may suffer during the spring peak, it’s worth learning more about what you can do.

If you have been experiencing suicidal intentions, reach out to a medical professional or speak to a friend or family member. Around 60-percent of those with a mental illness in the United States haven’t received treatment in the last year, which suggests that not enough is being done on the prevention front. If you have a co-concurring addiction, seeking treatment for it could help keep you safe.

If you suspect someone you love is suicidal, consider whether they’ve experienced events such as the following:

  • A recent mental health diagnosis
  • Job loss, exam failure, or relationship breakdown
  • Financial worries
  • Legal action pending against them
  • A major change in circumstances, either positive or negative
  • A significant change in income or lifestyle adjustment, including becoming a new parent

You may also want to consider the person’s behaviors, which can often be non-specific:

  • Withdrawing from social invites
  • Appearing moody or sad
  • Talking as though life is hopeless or worthless
  • An increase in drug or alcohol use
  • A loss of interest in their usual activities
  • Unable to keep up with their job
  • Becoming more irritable
  • Making jokes about suicide

If you have serious concerns about someone, check on their wellbeing and consider asking a medical professional for help. When you’re afraid there’s an immediate danger, you can call 911.

Otherwise, for more information and support, try the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.