Myth, Busted: Suicide And The Holidays

12/18/2017 02:10 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2017
While the holidays can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, the rate of suicide actually drops this time of year.
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While the holidays can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, the rate of suicide actually drops this time of year.

It’s easy to be misinformed when it comes to suicide. Before my life was dramatically altered because of suicide, there was much I didn’t understand. For all the information that’s available today about mental health and suicide, there’s also a lot of myths out there. Take this, for instance: If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably heard that suicides increase during the holiday season. This makes sense in theory. After all, if you’re feeling isolated or depressed, the holiday season – with its emphasis on family and loved ones – could make you feel even worse. That said, this long-held myth is exactly that – a myth.

According to the CDC, the suicide rate is actually lowest in December. This phenomenon can be credited to the fact that family and loved ones provide a good support system for those who are depressed or may be considering suicide. Anecdotally, I can affirm this is true. My husband was depressed for years before his eventual suicide, but he always seemed to “step up” during the holiday season. He didn’t want to disappoint me, my family or his parents.

That might sound like “good” news, but unfortunately, suicide rates rise after the New Year and peak in the springtime.

With more than 36,000 people taking their own lives every year, correct information is critical to help you spot the warning signs and risk factors for suicide. My husband exhibited countless warning signs, but I didn’t see them for what they were. He frequently spoke of death and suicide. We’d go for a walk and he’d talk about jumping off a bluff. He’d talk about jumping off our eighth-floor condo. In the kitchen making dinner, he’d grab a knife and pretend to stab himself in the stomach. His behavior was erratic and often reckless. He also exhibited many risk factors; he was depressed, he abused substances and he knew several people who had completed suicide.

I wish I’d known then what I know now, but today, my mission is to make sure others can understand and identify the warning signs and risk factors for suicide. Only this can save lives.

Suicide warning signs

  • Talking about it: The single most common warning sign for suicide is talking about it. If someone you know talks frequently about death, or worse, suicide, take it seriously.

  • Engaging in reckless behavior: There’s a reason they call it a “death wish.” Reckless behavior could be a sign that your friend or loved one wants to die.

  • Losing interest in hobbies or favorite pastimes: Often, people who are very depressed or engaging in suicidal thoughts stop finding pleasure in their favorite pastimes.

  • Giving things away: If your friend or loved one seems to be unloading a lot of his or her possessions – particularly those he or she values, that could be a sign of suicide.

  • Visits or calls to “say goodbye”: The conversation could be subtle, but when someone you love seems to be bidding farewell to family and friends, you should take this action seriously.

  • Alarming comments: If your friend or loved one frequently makes comments about feeling hopeless, wanting out, or that the world would be better off without him or her, this could be a sign of suicide.

Risk factors for suicide

Suicide affects every demographic, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or background. That said, there are several factors that make someone more likely than another to complete suicide. Those risk factors include:

  • Clinical depression

  • Previous suicide attempts

  • Association to others who have completed suicide

  • History of physical or sexual abuse

  • Alcohol or drug abuse

  • Chronic illness, including chronic pain

  • PTSD

Suicide knows no time or season. By knowing how to spot suicide risk, you can save the life of someone you love. For more information, visit www.thegriefgirl.com.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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