Most U.S. newspaper stories perpetuate false holiday-suicide link

    PHILADELPHIA – Year after year, the suicide rate is at its lowest in the United States during the holiday season, but nearly three-quarters of U.S. newspaper stories linking suicide and the holidays during the 2013-2014 season incorrectly said the opposite, according to a new analysis.

    In the 2013 holiday season, most newspaper stories mentioning suicide and the holidays perpetuated the myth that the holiday season has an increase in suicides, the analysis by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found.

    The study found 70 percent of the stories connecting suicide with the holidays incorrectly upheld the myth, consistent with the prior year, when 71 percent did. But the number of stories connecting the holidays and suicide – supporting or debunking the myth – was much lower than in 2012-2013. Forty-seven stories in U.S. newspapers made the connection from mid-November 2013 through January 2014, down from 62 in the same period a year earlier.

    “Fewer stories explicitly drew a link between suicide and the holidays, so that could be a sign that people recognize there is no connection,” said Daniel Romer, associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania.

    Highest suicide rate between April and August

    The months of November, December and January often have the fewest daily suicides during the year, according to statistics through 2010, the most recent available from the National Center for Health Statistics. The most daily U.S. suicides usually occur between the months of April and August.

    The policy center has been tracking press reports about suicide and the holidays since the 1999-2000 holiday season, when 77 percent of the stories supported the myth. From 2003 to 2009, the rate of stories debunking the myth was generally higher than or equal to those perpetuating the myth. Since then, stories upholding the myth have again predominated press coverage.

    “Many of the stories perpetuating the myth seem to have a therapeutic intent, encouraging people to be aware of those who are unhappy over the holidays,” Romer said. “But it does not help to promote misinformation about the likelihood that people will commit suicide during the holidays.” He said that recommendations on media coverage of suicide, which can be found at www.reportingonsuicide.org, discourage the practice of exaggerating the prevalence of suicide.

    For the complete news release, including methodology, click here.