Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

A Dangerous Myth

Myth about suicide increase during holiday season hurts more than helps

Is there an increase in suicide deaths during the holiday season?

It's been clearly demonstrated that, no, suicides actually increase in other seasons (spring and fall). But, how many times have you read or heard that suicide increases around the holidays?

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania has studied media coverage of the "suicide myth" since the 1999-2000 holiday season, when it was found that 23% of media stories linking suicide and the holidays dispelled the myth that suicide increases during the holiday season. In the 2007-2008 holiday season, 49% of stories debunked the myth - an improvement, but not compared to 2006-2007, when 91% of stories debunked the myth.

What's the problem with supporting the myth? Well, aside from the obvious - that, as a myth, it is not a truth - talking or writing about suicide as an acceptable solution to a problem might make suicide seem like the best option for someone who is already vulnerable.

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What's so interesting about this myth that makes people want to keep it going? What in our experience makes this myth resonate? Was this myth created, by Hollywood or mass media (I'm thinking of "It's a Wonderful Life")? Is there a kernel of truth on which this myth was originally based?

I'm very curious to hear your thoughts and experiences, personal and professional.

Copyright 2009 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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