Suicides Increase During Holiday Season: A Harmful Myth or Tragic Reality?

You’ve heard it before: “Suicides peak around the holidays.” Social media posts begin circulating in late November to implore everyone to look out for signs of depression and despair, and to practice kindness because depression is at its worst in December.

Some people theorize that the shorter days around the winter solstice wreak havoc on biological rhythms, and others cite loneliness and exclusion when the rest of the world is celebrating family and togetherness.

Still, others point to the financial stress of the giving season, and how those who are struggling feel they can’t reciprocate or participate in elaborate, festive decorations.

While all of the above may increase stress at the year’s end, you might be shocked to learn that, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), December is the month with the lowest suicide rates in the United States, and perpetuation of this myth by social and traditional media may actually hinder awareness efforts.

What do we need to know about suicide? Here are some important facts supplied by the CDC.

  • Every year, more than 36,000 Americans commit suicide.
  • Males are four times more likely to take their lives than females and are more likely to use firearms to commit suicide.
  • Despite the above, Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males and the fourteenth leading cause for females.
  • Suicide rates spike during spring and fall, with more suicides occurring during summer months than in winter.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Alaska is not the leading state for suicides and actually rates a relatively distant third behind Wyoming and Montana, respectively. Other states with high suicide rates, according to CDC’s data mapping program for 2015 include New Mexico, Utah, and Idaho.
  • States with the lowest suicide mortality include New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
  • Emergency services treat more than 374,000 patients for self-inflicted injuries each year.
  • September is Suicide Prevention Month when mental health organizations promote awareness and outreach resources for mental health conditions that contribute to suicide.

The aftermath of suicide

Another popular myth, that people commit suicide out of spite and selfishness, has largely been discredited; those suffering severe depression are only trying to escape what they feel is the insurmountable pain of mental illness and lack of hope.

That’s no consolation for those left behind.

In an article published by Harvard Women’s Health Watch, for every suicide, an estimated six survivors are dramatically impacted by grief and loss. In addition, the article contends that “Some suicide survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can become chronic if not treated. In PTSD, the trauma is involuntarily re-lived in intrusive images that can create anxiety and a tendency to avoid anything that might trigger the memory.”

The added burden of cleaning up after a traumatic and violent death, particularly when a body has been left unattended for a period of time or when the suicide involved a firearm, adds to the survivors’ emotional distress.

Social, cultural and religious stigmas surrounding suicide also affect survivors, curtailing their ability to seek out comfort and support. Campaigns such as Suicide Prevention Month work to address these stigmas, fostering awareness and compassion for those who struggle with depression and those who have lost a loved one.

Trauma recovery companies such as New York-based Bio Recovery offers suicide cleanup services, working with insurance companies or through special financial arrangements to lessen the burden on suicide survivors. These biohazard and trauma recovery services, also called “crime scene cleanup” companies, return homes, workplaces, and vehicles to pre-trauma condition, allowing family members and co-workers to focus on self-care.

Bio Recovery, with a combined 65 years of experience, recognizes the role that their company plays in helping family members recover after a suicide, or any death requiring bio hazard remediation.

They don’t see a spike in suicides during the holiday season, but their teams do experience an increase in unattended deaths due to seasonal illnesses, particularly among the elderly. Bio Hazard urges neighbors and families to keep in touch with seniors living alone, especially during flu season and extreme weather events.

Outreach for every season

Suicide awareness is important year-round, regardless of statistical peaks and valleys. Advocates for mental health are working hard to make people feel more comfortable talking about depression, so those who need help aren’t hesitant to reach out.

This Christmas, keep up with the tradition of looking in on friends and family you suspect might need a little more support, but don’t let myths take away from the need to be compassionate the rest of the year. If you’re in need of help or someone to simply hold space, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or their site for hearing impaired contact information. Are you or a loved one in immediate crisis? Call 911 and get help immediately.