After 11 Years of Setting the Record Straight, Stories about Holiday Suicides Still Outnumber Those Debunking the Myth, APPC Study Finds

    Does the suicide rate go up around the end of year holidays? Since 2000, the Annenberg Public Policy Center has been tracking press reporting about this widespread belief. In the end of the millennium year of 1999, APPC identified over 60 stories that ran during that holiday period saying that suicides do indeed spike over the holidays. This prompted us to examine the evidence. As seen in the figure below based on official suicide deaths in the U.S., the months of November, December, and January typically have the lowest daily rates of suicide in the year. Despite what many believe, the holiday-suicide link is a myth.
     
    Since we began our annual study, the number of stories supporting the myth has declined (see Figure 2). But surprisingly, the number of stories each year claiming that the link is real remains stubbornly difficult to eliminate. In some years, the number of stories was quite small. However, last year the number of stories supporting the myth actually outnumbered the ones that debunked it (14 vs. 6).
     
    “It’s clear that the myth continues to be circulated even though a quick search on Google would show it to be wrong,” noted Dan Romer, who has directed the study since its inception. “After 11 years of setting the record straight, it’s surprising how resilient the idea is.”
     
    There is clearly a seasonal pattern to suicide rates. The spring and summer are usually the highest months in the year. So, it is difficult to understand how the holiday-suicide myth came about. The phenomenon of the “holiday blues” may play a role in making the myth credible. But it is unlikely to be a major factor in suicide rates over the holidays.
     
    The problem with reinforcing the myth is that media content that makes suicide appear to be more common can encourage vulnerable individuals to consider it. Although we have no direct evidence for such an effect of the holiday myth, other evidence indicates that the media can influence vulnerable people to attempt suicide. This has led various public health agencies and organizations to encourage more accurate reporting by the media (see www.reportingonsuicide.org).
     
    In addition, a government sponsored website, SPRC.org, provides helpful information about suicide prevention. CDC also offers its viewpoint about the holiday suicide myth, and provides links to related resources, at http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/suicide/holiday.html.
     
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. For persons between the ages of 15-24, it is the third leading cause of death, and for persons between the ages of 25-34, it is the second leading cause.
     
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