The Facts about Suicide During the December Holidays

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The Facts about Suicide During the December Holidays   

Jim Windell


            The year-end holiday season that occurs every December is marked by high suicide rates, right?

            The Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s hype and the family-centered advertising that is endemic on TV is so depressing for some people that many more people take their own lives in December. Fact or fiction?

            The fact is that December does not have more suicides than other months. Actually, there are fewer suicides in December than in other months. Unfortunately, both the media and the general public believe in the holiday-suicide myth.

            However, for more than two decades, the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) has tracked the ways in which news organizations erroneously link the year-end holiday season with suicide, perpetuating the false holiday-suicide myth. But as years of national data show, the winter holiday months usually have low average daily suicide rates – with December the lowest of all.

            APPC, at the University of Pennsylvania, has analyzed news coverage of the holiday-suicide myth over the past two dozen holiday seasons, starting with the 1999-2000 season. They find that for most of those years, more newspaper stories supported the myth than debunked it, though that was not the case in 2022-23.

           In the APPC new media analysis, it was found that of the newspaper stories during the 2022-23 holiday season that explicitly connected the holidays with suicide, 60% correctly debunked the myth while 40% incorrectly supported it. However, they point out that it is not just the media that often gets it wrong. So does the public.

           In a separate, nationally representative survey APPC conducted earlier in 2023, four out of five adults incorrectly picked the month of December over several other months that typically have much higher suicide rates as the “time of year in which the largest number of suicides occur.”

           Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, commented on this. “We are encouraged to see more news stories that debunked the myth than supported it,” Romer said recently. “But whether it’s the media that is influencing popular opinion, or mistaken beliefs by the public that appear in news stories, it’s unfortunate to see there are still persistent misimpressions about the holidays and suicide.”

          Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the number of U.S. suicides increased in 2022 for the second consecutive year following two years of declines. From 2021 to 2022, the number of U.S. suicide deaths increased by 2.6%, reaching a record of nearly 50,000. The CDC reports that in 2022, the average number of U.S. suicide deaths per day in November and December made those the lowest months of the year – 11th and 12th, respectively – and January was ranked 8th.

          While the late fall and winter had the lowest average number of suicide deaths per day in 2022, the late spring and summer months had the highest numbers. May, June, July, and August were, respectively, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and 4th, in average suicides per day.

          “The holiday season is undoubtedly a difficult time of year for some,” Romer said. “We see news stories, health features, and advice columns on seasonal affective disorder and the holiday blues. We see the reemergence of holiday movies like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and the media and many individuals reflect on the year past, contemplating what has been lost. But people are incorrect to conclude that the fraught nature of the season results in an increase in suicide.”

          The APPC points out that it is important to dispel the holiday-suicide myth because allowing people to think that suicide is more likely during the holiday season can have contagious effects on people who are experiencing a crisis and contemplating suicide. Journalists are advised not to promote information that can increase contagion, such as reports of epidemics or seasonal increases, especially when the claim has no basis in fact. The recommendations, which were developed by journalism and suicide-prevention groups along with the APPC, say that reporters should consult reliable sources such as the CDC on suicide rates and offer information about resources that can help people in need.

          To read the Annenberg Public Policy Center report, “What’s Behind the Holiday-Suicide Myth,” find it at:


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