The Holiday Suicide Myth Is A Dangerous Misconception

The Holiday Suicide Myth Is A Dangerous Misconception

  • The rate of suicide somehow doesn’t rise over the Christmas season, contrary to widespread misconception.
  • During the 2017-2018 holiday season, over two-thirds of the media that mentioned both the festivities and suicide in the same article made a misleading connection between the two.
  • Research has found that suicide rates typically increase during the spring, not the winter months.

The Holiday Suicide Myth Is A Dangerous Misconception

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide was the tenth highest cause of death in the United States in 2017. (NIMH).

Over 47,000 people died by suicide that year, yet, contrary to general opinion, suicide rates have declined over the holidays than most other times of the year.

Studies have shown that suicide rates often rise in the springtime rather than the winter.

However, the 2017-2018 holiday season was also when almost two-thirds of media cited the holidays and suicide in the same stories incorrectly connected the two.

This implies that journalists have perpetuated a misconception that even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attempted to debunk.

About Film: It’s A Wonderful Life

April Foreman, PhD, is a suicidologist and co-founder of Suicide Prevention and Social Media. She is a member of the American Association of Suicidology’s executive council (SPSM).

She told Healthline that although there is no scientific explanation for why people think suicide rates rise over the holidays, however, there are some reasons that lead to this assumption, and one of them starts with the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.

Released in 1946 throughout the country, “It’s a Wonderful Life" has been on everyone’s watch list for nearly decades—the plot centres on the protagonist contemplating suicide.

The most valuable message, according to Foreman, is that the holiday seasons are a fantastic opportunity for us to reflect. However, she clarified, “We’ve been telling that kind of narrative for a long time. And of course, Clarence stops him, shows him what the world would be like without him, and he goes home, and the town raises money, and things turn out better than he thought they would.

She went on to say that the issue with the film, and the way we portray suicide in tales in general, is that it doesn’t correctly depict what suicide and suicidal tendencies look like in real life.

Suicidal thoughts and feelings tend to happen to lots of people and come up as the result of varying circumstances," Foreman explained. “They tend to happen during the warmer months. Suicide rates go up in March. Our crisis calls go up in the summer.

She added, “In the winter months, you also have less light and therefore less energy. People may not realize this, but it takes a lot of energy to kill yourself. That’s not to say that suicides don’t happen during the wintertime. But you can feel bad, and you can feel depressed, but acting on suicidal thoughts takes energy."

She claims that the Christmas season functions as a shield against suicidal thoughts. This is due, in part, to all of the activities and social engagements that take place throughout the season. These can protect individuals from suicidal thoughts.

We have a good four to six weeks of inviting each other in, connecting. If we treated each other the same way we do over the holidays all year long, it would be very preventative," Foreman said. 

All of this being said, it’s critical to note that just because winter’s suicide rates are lower doesn’t imply individuals aren’t having suicidal thoughts. They certainly are.

Regardless of the season, anyone with suicidal impulses should seek urgent care, according to Foreman.

Source - NPR

Holiday Suicide Myth Misattribution

According to Foreman, the issue regarding the suicide myth in holidays is that “When people misattribute things to the holidays, they might be ignoring the real causes.

She recounted the tale of a little city where suicides were on the rise over the holidays.

Local politicians blamed the surge in suicides on Christmas time. Still, when researchers dug further, they found that the local petrochemical company laid off many employees around the holidays.

In that situation, recognising plausible explanations for what was happening will provide scientists and local community members with more substantial means of addressing and preventing suicides, rather than merely linking them to the holidays.

Suicidal Thoughts Do Not Emerge Unexpectedly Around The Holidays

Suicidality is often simply one of many symptoms accompanying anxiety, depression, and other mental diseases.

I wouldn’t be so fast to blame it on the holidays, to blame it on something external," Foreman said. 

She pointed that out because there is typically a range of other factors leading to suicidal thoughts. It’s not simply one Christmas season or a specific combination of events that makes someone feel this way.

“I’m not saying your own particular circumstances might not be getting you down," Foreman explained. 

She pointed out that some people may have genuine reasons for experiencing an increase in feelings of depression and suicidality around the holidays. 

You could have seasonal affective disorder or trauma from your family history that does increase these feelings for you this time of year," she said.

She noted that some persons might have legitimate causes for experiencing an upsurge in emotions of despair and suicidality over the holidays.

She said that each individual and each combination of situations is different. However, most people do not experience increased suicidal thoughts over the Christmas season.

Throughout the year, there are frequently underlying events or situations that lead to these thoughts.

Seek Help When Necessary

The fact that lesser individuals die by suicide on average over the holidays makes little difference to someone who is having suicidal thoughts.

People who are suicidal are by definition ambivalent," said clinical and forensic psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD, who specializes in managing suicide risk. “They’re not dead, which means there’s a part of them that wants to live. But they’re suicidal, which means there’s a part of them that wants to die.

He said that, regardless of the time of year, these emotions are quite realistic and distressing for anybody experiencing them.

He advises anybody contemplating suicide to get additional help in whatever method they can. Find a therapist, phone or text a hotline, or go to a hospital emergency department.

If you’re suicidal, they have to help you," Dvoskin said. “It’s not the best way, but if there’s no other option in the moment, it will help you to get through the night. And sometimes, when you make it through the night, in the morning other options come into your awareness.

Dealing With The Loss Of Loved Ones To Suicide

Although the holiday season does not invoke suicidal thoughts for many, however, this time of year may occasionally deepen the sadness associated with the death of a loved one due to suicide.

According to Foreman, people don’t always know well how to mourn the death of a suicide victim. Because they aren’t willing to talk about their cherished one who is no longer here, they might want to shut down over the holidays, refusing to celebrate at all.

I always tell people I’m sorry for their loss when I learn they’ve lost someone to suicide," Foreman said. “And then I ask for the person’s name, because I think that’s a thing we can do to erase the shame.

She recommends telling the struggling individuals that you’re thinking about them and their departed loved ones throughout the holidays, mentioning the deceased’s name whenever appropriate, and creating room for that someone who is no longer here.

Suicide, because we don’t understand it well, almost feels worse and becomes a harder loss to acknowledge," Foreman said. “Helping to normalize the topic of suicide so that we can remember with love the people who died by suicide, just as we would remember a loved one who passed another way, can help families erase the stigma and shame.

People’s Resources

If you or someone you care about is contemplating suicide this Christmas season or at any other time of year, contact the Befriends Hotline at +603-76272929. They are accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


Source – Healthline

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