Holiday Suicide Rates: Fact Or Fiction?

12/25/13 11:59AM EST

Holiday Suicide Rates Fact Or Fiction Holiday Suicide Rates: Fact Or Fiction?

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It’s a long-standing belief that suicide rates peak during the holidays, and that doesn’t seem too far-fetched. For many people, the season brings tense and stressful encounters, reminders of everything that’s happened in the last year, and often an enhanced sense of loneliness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to set the record straight: although holidays might not be a walk in the park, they’re not responsible for any suicides. In fact, December consistently has a lower suicide rate than any other month.

More than 36,000 Americans take their own lives each year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death. Rates are highest in the spring and fall seasons, not winter.

Misinformation And Its Causes

Misinformation on this topic is rampant. USA Today reports that in 1999, 77 percent of stories about holiday suicide rates erroneously said suicides increase during Christmastime. That figure has barely changed in more than a decade: 76 percent of stories on the topic in 2011 had the same wrong information.

The CDC says the misinformation around holiday suicide rates can actually impede prevention efforts, such as monitoring suicidal behavior and identifying people at risk. It can also be dangerous for anyone who is suicidal during winter. David Litts of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention explained to USA Today, “An article that leads them to believe that it’s normal for people in their situation to end their life may be just that little nudge that puts them over.”

On the other hand, accurate information can help desperate people see that their situations are temporary. “The majority of people in their situation find a way to live,” Litts said. “That might give them the courage to go on and keep looking for that way.”

In the meantime, an extra little hug at Christmas probably wouldn’t hurt.

Anyone contemplating suicide should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.