December 2, 2016

Debunking Holiday Myths about Suicide

Christmas time is here. People are stringing lights and decorating trees to prepare for the the night when Santa Claus will bring gifts for each girls and boy. It's a time when people are more eager to serve strangers, and feed the hungry. In areas where snow falls, kids can be seen sledding and building snowmen. It is known by many as the most wonderful time of the year.

But, there is another popular idea about Christmas that many people; that suicide rates in the United States increase during the holiday season. There are some who say the social gatherings, financial pressure, and cold weather are to blame. Popular holiday movies such as A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life would say that the holidays may bring cheer to many, but deep despair to others. There is a lot of stress that sometimes comes around the holidays as we worry about the sky rocketing suicide rates we are alarmed about.

Except there no more reason to worry now than any other time of the year. There is no statistical evidence that shows suicide increasing during the winter season. In fact, people attempt and die more often by suicide far more often in the springtime, and has been so for the last 50 years.

According to the CDC, November and December are the months with the fewest suicides and that perpetuating the myth that winter time sees an increase in suicide can be very damaging to those who may be suffering with suicidal thoughts.

In fact, studies show that suicide rates tend to increase in the Spring, when the weather begins to warm up.

In a blog post written by Dr. Steven Scholzman for the Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds it says, "Obviously we're going to worry about suicide any time of the year; if someone says that life isn't worth living we're not going to ignore this sentiment because it's expressed during the winter months. But, just as we worry more about asthma during seasons when pollen increases, it behooves us to be more vigilant for suicidal thinking and behavior as the season changes from cold to warm."

Chart via Psychiatry Letter

There are some theories that suggest that the mood activation triggered by warmer weather brings about the development of more self-destructive behaviors. There are certain studies that show bipolar disorder worsens during this time of year. Deborah Serani wrote in Scientific American that individuals dealing with depression who don't find that their lives align with a season that's supposed to be all about happiness and renewal can sometimes fall into an "energized despair." Thus, they become more likely to act on their suicidal thoughts. There are other theories connecting the increase in pollen and allergies with inflammation. An article written for The Atlantic said,

"There’s evidence that excess pollen in the air triggers the release of inflammatory proteins called cytokines into the upper airways, exacerbating mood disturbances in people who are prone to them. When scientists dumped tree pollen into the nasal cavities of rodents, the critters had more cytokine gene expression in their brains, and they become more anxious and socially withdrawn."

Both of these theories could be possible explanations for the increase of suicides in the spring, but more research is still being done. 

Regardless of the season it is always important to be watchful and observant of individuals who may be struggling. But, the cheerfulness of the holiday season can still be enjoyed.

Happy Holidays!

If you or someone you know may be struggling, please visit the National Prevention website for resources.

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