November 26, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

Fact Check – Do More Suicides Really Happen Around the Holidays?

Mythbusting the fatality of seasonal depression

Fact Check – Do More Suicides Really Happen Around the Holidays?
Many people experience intense grief anguish during the winter holidays, and it can be particularly hard for those battling depression, too. But does that lead to a spike in suicides? (Shutterstock)

True or false? 


"Suicide rates are highest in December and January because of the Christmas holidays."


You may have heard this oft-repeated factoid—but does it have any basis in reality?


The holiday season brings cheer to millions of Americans each year. But with the festive season upon us, it's easy to forget those who aren't experiencing joy this year. Many people believe suicide rates spike in December due to the pressures of the holiday season. 


But do more people really take their own lives in late December than other times of the year?


Who doesn't love Christmas?


It's not just the Grinch who dreads the festivities of winter. Christmas can be a cruel holiday for those who suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts. Seeing so many friends and relatives excited about the spending time with family and receiving a gift from Santa can be a stark contrast to the loneliness and pain of depression. It's a season that often amplifies strong emotions. Even those who love Christmas can end up overwhelmed or disappointed by the general overabundance of holiday greetings.


In recent years, people have become more aware of the fact that Christmas isn't universally joyful. But that doesn't mean it's the cause of suicides.


What do the facts say? 


According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, most suicides actually occur in springtime, at a significantly higher rate than any other season. In fact, the worst season for suicides is April. This graph can give you an understanding of how suicide rates fluctuate by month. 


Suicides do not increase in the wintertime. It's hard to say where the notion originated, but it's possible that the tragedy of losing loved ones around the holiday, particularly in this manner, plays a role. Families who lose a loved one to suicide face a unique set of grief obstacles, and when a loss occurs at a time that is already emotionally charged, it's even more difficult. Perhaps people conflate the intensity of the tragedy with the rate of increase in suicides, leading to this common piece of misinformation. Regardless of the rumors, suicides tend to sharply spike in April, and are actually often lowest in December. Numerous studies have show similar data to this over the past 50 years. 


What to take away


Even if rates of suicide don't increase at Christmas time, these deaths do occur during every month of the year. If you are thinking of someone who may be at risk, reach out to them—no matter what time of year it is. 


The The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24/7 toll-free hotline that can help if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts. Pass this number to a friend, or save it for future reference:


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


1-800-273-8255 

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