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Suicide Risk Does Not Go Up During Holidays

WebMD Health News

Dec. 26, 2000 -- Contrary to previous media reports, suicide rates do not increase during the holiday season. In fact, November and December rank lowest in terms of daily suicide rates.

A new study shows that the media actually perpetuates this myth. In fact, two out of three stories incorrectly link suicides to the holidays, according to an analysis by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York.

To arrive at their findings, researchers examined print stories on suicide that ran from Nov. 8, 1999 through Jan. 15, 2000 and found that only 13% of stories attempted to set straight the myth that suicides rate increase during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It turns out that April tends to have the highest suicide rates, according to Herbert Hendin, MD, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Exactly why suicide rates rise in April is unclear, but as American poet and playwright T.S. Eliot put it, April is the cruelest month.

Perhaps, Hendin says, unreasonable expectations of springtime peak in April and people commit suicide when they realize they are not living up to their expectations.

In the U.S., suicide is the eighth leading cause of death and the third leading cause of death among teenagers. In 1998, over 30,000 Americans took their own lives.

"No question about it," Hendin tells WebMD, "the idea that suicide peaks during the holidays is a myth [and] we have been telling the media that for years."

Still, each year Hendin gets calls about it. "The media have a fondness for this story. I think it probably arose from the fact that people without families or who have lost somebody are often sad around Christmas because of the absence of the person or persons," he says.

"Suicide is a product of mental illness and 95% of people who commit suicide are mentally ill -- most commonly with depression," Hendin tells WebMD. "The type of depressed person that is at risk is often agitated, anxious and a substance abuser."

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