The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Suicide Rates Over the Holidays

Unravelling the truth about holiday suicide rates

Happy holidays everyone! May it be the most awesome one ever.

This post is about suicide rates over the holiday season. There have been a slew of recent internet articles on this topic that I have come across just from people sharing articles on Facebook. But I haven't known whether or not to believe them. So I am looking into the published research myself. What will the answer be? (future me knows the answer and will write the rest of this post)

Future me here. In a cursory search, I looked at the results for maybe 12-15 empirical studies that tested this (e.g., here and here) before finding a fairly comprehensive review of the empirical suicide literature (here). I did not find a single study that supported the myth that suicide rates increase during the holidays. I did not even find someone making an argument that this could be the case.

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The majority of studies actually found that suicide rates lowered before and during the holiday season. (though one study found a slight rise after the holiday season, this was not higher than the normal rate, just higher than the lower rate found during the holidays). The rest found no differences between the holidays and normal days. This was the case in the UK, the United States, Finland and Australia, just to name some of the locations for the studies I came across.

One of the primary buffers of stress and depression is our social identity. The holidays, if anything, maximize social connection for most people. Hence, suicide rates are lower. Heat also is associated with higher suicide rates. And for most people, the Christmas holiday season isn't exactly a scorching hot affair. Even in hot climates, this time of year isn't especially hot relative to the rest of the year (think Florida in the winter, warm, but not hot).

These studies all report trends across large amounts of people. It is still possible, however, that for a few individuals, the holidays do increase the desire for suicide and even make them more likely to attempt it. So it isn't safe to say that for all people the holiday season lowers the potential for suicide.

But, overall, suicide rates decline over the holiday season.

What, you didn't think this suicide based post written and posted on Christmas day wasn't going to end on a high note?

Merry Christmas and happy new year!

 

(As an aside, major sports events also are associated with lower suicide rates, but the lunar cycles are not associated at all with suicide)

 

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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