Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Holidays, Suicide, Myths, and Truths

During the holiday season, make a wonderful life

Since 2000, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania has been systematically tracking suicide data and coverage of suicide during the winter holiday season. In the past year, the study shows, there was an increase in stories implying that suicide increases during the winter months.

The problem with these types of stories? Well, they’re just not true.

Why does the holiday suicide myth persist in the face of evidence to the contrary?

It would be hard to miss how much suicide has been in the news over the past year - from celebrities, to people connected to celebrities, to generally greater (both more and better) coverage of an often-taboo subject.

That increased coverage, and the increased awareness it may build, might be contributing to the persistence of the holiday-suicide myth.

Is there any truth to a seasonal suicide connection? Yes, and it might not be what you’re thinking. Suicide rates have been shown to be higher in spring and summer months.

But, there is something related to suicide that’s true during the winter season: When you’ve lost a loved one, no matter how recently or long ago, holidays can be a particularly difficult time.

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Just as the anniversary of a death can blindside survivors with emotions, holidays can bring up emotions that might otherwise be kept under wraps at other times of the year.

What are some ideas for how survivors of suicide can make life easier during the holidays?

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers some good suggestions for taking care of yourself at this time. I’ve listed a few of the ideas below and you can find more here:

  • If you find it comforting to talk about your loved one, let your family and friends know that; tell them not to be afraid to mention your loved one's name.
  • Think about your family's holiday traditions. Consider whether you want to continue them or create some new ones.
  • Above all, bear in mind that there is no "right" way to handle holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. You and your family may decide to try several different approaches before finding one that feels best for you.

AFSP also offers stories from survivors sharing what’s worked for them to help with emotions and memories. You can find that list here.

If you are missing a loved one this holiday season, may you find comfort in your memories.

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, M.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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