David Phillips, Gwendolyn E. Barker, and Kimberly M. Brewer authored a 2010 paper in Social Science & Medicine, in which they analyzed all official and computerized US death certificates for the years 1979 to 2004 (n = 57,451,944). They conducted a very broad range of analyses that are beyond the scope of the current post (but interested readers can access the full paper here). For example, they broke down the deaths into different categories such as death-on-arrivals (DOA), emergency department (ED) settings, and other settings (non-DOA/ED settings). They also looked at five major disease-related sources of deaths (circulatory; neoplasms; respiratory; endocrine/nutritional/metabolic; and digestive) to see if these would each exhibit noticeable spikes during the holiday seasons (e.g., the link between heart attacks and Christmas-New Year’s holiday season, Phillips et al., 2004). They also broke down the data into different demographic groups (age, biological sex, race, and education level) to gauge whether the spikes (if any) are linked to particular groups of individuals but not others.
The Christmas-New Year’s holiday season can be a double-edge sword when it comes to one’s mental health. On the one hand, it is a festive period where individuals get together with loved ones to share meals, exchange gifts, and renew their feelings of belongingness. Regrettably, for others, this is a time when their sense of loneliness, alienation, and social isolation are particularly poignant and evident. With that in mind, I decided to conduct a quick search of the literature to gauge what the consensus was (if any) regarding the links between suicide and this particular holiday season. While doing so, I came across an article that expanded the research question from a single cause of death (suicide) to all deaths. This is the study that I briefly discuss here (see CNN’s coverage on this intriguing link here).