Everyone has heard it, the whisper of concern for a depressed friend as they trim the Christmas tree or go holiday shopping.
“You know the rate of suicides goes up around the holidays,” one friend would whisper to another as the worry rose. The other friend would nod and wonder whether the proverbial holiday blues would cause their depressed friend to do something drastic.
It’s a piece of common holiday lore, sandwiched between which cookies to make for Santa and where the menorah should be placed.
But the dark shadow of high suicide rates in December isn’t attached to anything tangible. The fact is, December has been proven to have the lowest suicide rate of the year.
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The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania did a study in 2010 showing that, between 1999 and 2010, the months with the lowest suicide rate were consistently December and November. This year, the center released an update, showing the same trend into 2013.
There was even an 1897 study by Émile Durkheim that also concluded: “Neither in winter nor in autumn does suicide reach its maximum.”
So where did the myth come from?
Nobody seems to know exactly, although one theory is the amount of airtime It’s a Wonderful Life gets during the holidays.
The 1946 movie, centered around Clarence the angel trying to convince George Bailey that living is better than dying, is something ingrained in the minds of many Americans and could be swaying our subconscious.
Another reason for the myth persisting through the years could be media coverage. The Annenberg study said that about 70 percent of media stories in the 2013 holiday season erroneously cited the myth as fact.
But, thankfully, this has been declining. In the 2014-2015 season, the number of incorrect reports went down to 47 percent, the study said.
Either way, the myth lingers, prompting whispers and causing a lot more harm than good.
Misinformation about suicide is a dangerous thing, so understanding the truth and siphoning out the myths and outright falsities is the best way to keep that dark shadow away during the holidays.