It's a common misconception that more people die by suicide during the holiday season than any other time of the year, says Thomas Ellis, PsyD, APPB, director of Psychology at The Menninger Clinic in Houston and author of books about the treatment of suicidality.
"Typically, the reasoning behind the misconception is that people who are lonely and depressed feel much worse during the holidays with all its hustle and bustle and are more likely to commit suicide," Dr. Ellis explains. "From a logical standpoint it would seem to make sense; however, statistics show that suicide rates actually tend to decline during the holidays."
Suicide rates are lowest in December, and peak in the spring and the fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics. But major depression and suicide deserve attention. In 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available) suicide was the 11th leading cause of death for all ages and killed more than 34,000 people—one every 15 minutes—in the United States.
While no direct cause has been linked to the decrease of suicides during the holidays, Dr. Ellis says the focus on family and friends during the holiday season may help depressed people feel more connected and perhaps more hopeful.
"The holidays are a time when relationships are emphasized and celebrated," he says. "Research is really clear that relationships act as a strong buffer to suicide."
Feeling hopeless during the holidays?