Ignore the myth: Suicides fall during the holidays

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 25, 2014.

There’s a dark myth that has clouded the holidays for years – that annual U.S. suicide rates reach their peak between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But national data show that’s not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. It seems that – at this time of year at least – it really is a wonderful life.

November, December and January are almost always among the year’s lowest months for suicides. By comparison, hundreds more Americans take their lives in spring and summer. Analysts at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center charted the National Center for Health Statistics’ monthly suicide data for January 1999 through December 2010.

The researchers also tracked how newspapers reported suicides each year during the holiday months. The vast majority of the time, articles that mentioned both holidays and suicides perpetuated the fallacy.

“Despite what many people believe, the holiday-suicide link is truly a myth,” Dan Romer, associate director of the Annenberg center, said in a statement. “Why are we concerned about stories that focus on the myth? The holidays are a time when the media talk about the stresses of the period. And contagion from press reporting is a validated phenomenon that can influence those who are already susceptible to suicide.”

Here are the numbers behind suicides during the holiday season:


The number of Americans who took their lives each day on average during the 2010 holiday season, the most recent year in which the Annenberg Public Policy Center analyzed national data. In the spring and summer months of 2010, the average was 110 people per day, or about 300 more per month than during November, December and January.


The number of suicides per day on average during the 2000 holiday season. Rates have risen for all seasons every year since, and Annenberg analysts note they took a steep jump in 2008, after the U.S. financial collapse.


The percentage of newspaper stories that mentioned suicides and the holidays during the 2012-13 holiday season and perpetuated the myth, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Only 18 out of 62 articles refuted it.


Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death for American adults – higher than traffic fatalities. It is the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 15-24.