No, Suicide Rates Are Not Highest During the Winter Holidays
Suicide Rates May Be Lowest During the Holidays, but You Should Still Check on Your People
One of the biggest myths about suicide is that people end their lives in larger numbers during the holidays. This is not true.
I used to make sure to discuss this myth every year on my social channels because it’s inaccurate, and I got tired of seeing media pushes and careless social sharing that just perpetuated it. I find that we—the media, the suicide prevention and suicidology fields, people in general—have a habit of discussing suicide when we can sensationalize it (e.g., during the holidays, when a celebrity ends their life) or during a month (September) arbitrarily designated as the time to RaIsE aWaReNeSs around the issue. Wouldn’t it make more sense to discuss it regularly, or at least during times of year when folks are most affected and most need support?
Suicide rates among adults tend to be highest in April and July*; suicide rates among people under 18 tend to be highest when school is in session (feel free to email me if you want the PDF for any academic articles I share), and specifically when students go back to school. Zooming in, someone attempts suicide every 26 seconds, and someone dies from suicide every 11 minutes in the U.S. Suicide is much more relevant to our day-to-day lives than we give it credit for. Until we’re able to admit that and move beyond awareness campaigns to education, nuanced discussion, and critical thinking on suicide, we’re unlikely to reduce consistently rising suicide rates.
Suicide rates in the U.S. tend to be lowest in December. Nominally. People are less isolated. Some people are kinder, more generous and others feel that. Holiday bonuses, for those who get them, might help with difficult financial situations. Parties! Time off from school! Surely, I’m missing a few things.
Even so, those lower suicide rates don’t touch the emotional suffering so many feel during the holidays: people who are grieving, LGBTQ+ folks rejected by their families, those who have no families, those people who are houseless, people who are incarcerated, poor folks. It’s a long list.
A couple of years ago, a colleague pointed out that it was insensitive of me to spend so much time trying to bust the myth around holiday suicide without also addressing a different aspect of it: those left behind.
Suicide loss survivors can struggle immensely during holidays. Grief, in general, tends to flare up around holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or other special dates. Loss survivors are at increased risk for suicide. Many experience suicidal thoughts of their own as a result of their grief, and suicide grief tends to last longer and be more complicated than other forms of grief.
If you know a loss survivor, now is a great time to check in on them. Ask how they are, specifically in relation to their loss. Say the names of the folks they lost. Ask them to share a memory if they’re up for it. What I’m learning is that, though those we’ve lost are physically absent, they remain present in so many other ways, and that’s worth acknowledging.
While you’re at it, check in on anyone dealing with something causing them distress: suicide loss survivors; those grieving COVID deaths (especially if they weren’t able to be present for the loss or have any sort of death-related funeral or ritual); essential and frontline workers; anyone struggling with relationship issues, financial issues, job loss, potential eviction, or medical issues (these are all factors associated with suicide); and anyone struggling with being alone or missing family for the holidays this year.
Ask how they are. Ask what you can do. Validate their feelings, even if they’re difficult for you to grasp. You don’t have to understand it. Be generous with your love and care anyway. More listening, less talking. Avoid “move on” and “get over it” commentary. Start zero sentences with “at least.” Just give compassion, love, and support — kind curiosity — but respect them, too, if they don’t want to talk about it. Show that you’re safe, that you’re trustworthy, that you’re ready and willing to be a source of support. They might call on you some other time.
Look, bust the myths around holiday suicide if you want, but don’t forget that our people need us—especially right now.
* When I discuss statistics or behavioral trends, I’m only talking about the United States unless otherwise noted.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255, Trans Lifeline at 877–565–8860 (U.S.) or 877–330–6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866–488–7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741–741.
NOTE: Many of these resources utilize restrictive interventions, like active rescues (wellness or welfare checks) involving law enforcement or emergency services. If this is a concern for you, you can ask if this is a possibility at any point in your conversation. Trans Lifeline does not implement restrictive interventions for suicidal people without express consent. A warmline is also less likely to do this, but you may want to double-check their policies.