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Data show suicide rates decline during the holidays, although misperception lingers

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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?

Don't:

  • Self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Drinking or taking drugs may temporarily lift your spirits, but they also increase depression and impulsivity—increasing your risk for suicide.
  • Don't wait to be invited. "Take the initiative and invite a friend over during the holidays," Dr. Ellis advises. "Sometimes people think they have to do something big, but it can be as simple as calling up people to have a cup of coffee."
  • Don't wait till you are feeling desperate to get help. Watch for early signs of distress or suicidal urges and seek help from mental health professional.

Do:

  • Seek out other people. "Find a way to connect with other people anyway you can, if you are on your own," Dr. Ellis says. "If you are spiritually inclined, that could mean attending religious services, or if you are not religious, just meeting a friend, or connecting with someone on Facebook."
  • Help others. Volunteer for a charity or help a neighbor to take the focus off of yourself and lift your spirits and self-esteem, adds Dr. Ellis.
  • Get professional help. If you are still feeling suicidal, talk to a therapist, call the national suicide hotline (800-273-TALK), go to your local emergency room or call 911.