Origins: I'd believed this one for the longest time. It fit what I already believed, that the joy others experience during the holidays drives home the hopelessness of the situation to someone who is alone in the world. All that Christmas cheer, in other words, pushes those teetering on the edge over the side as they see too clearly what others have and, by contrast, what they do not have.
(A further myth along this line has it that more mothers commit suicide on Mother's Day than on any other day of the year. This again fits the notion that the reality of a neglected parent's life is driven home to her on the one day when she should be receiving some recognition for all the love and care she's lavished on her children.)
And yet it's not that way at all:
A study of all reported suicides in Olmsted County during a
Nor did researchers find a higher suicide rate on birthdays, or three days before or after birthdays.
However, their work, concluded in 1985, did affirm other studies showing that suicides are most numerous early in the week and least common on weekends. The authors speculate: "Fewer suicides than expected may occur on weekends and major holidays because it may be easier to repress troublesome thoughts during these times of greater social interaction."1
Holiday depression. Christmas blues.
We're in that psychologically menacing month when unresolved emotional conflicts, loneliness and other problems trigger an alarming rise in psychiatric emergencies and suicide.
There's a minor problem with the idea that America's mental health goes to pieces in December: Evidence suggests that holiday depression is about as real as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
One of the largest studies examined seasonal trends in more than
Other studies verified that national suicide rates in December and January were either average or below average.
One group of researchers used National Center for Health Statistics data to check suicide rates on specific holidays over the entire decade of the 1970s. On an average day, there were
The New Year's Day rate rose to
Psychiatric visits to hospital emergency departments reach their lowest point of the year one to two weeks before Christmas, and other holidays like
The studies conclude that if holiday depression does descend every December, its effects are too minor or it involves too few people to show up in the official statistics.
Why the gap between belief and reality?
Experts emphasize that the holidays are a stressful time. People eat and drink more than normal, change their usual patterns of sleep and exercise, contend with frustrating traffic jams at mobbed shopping centers, and spend more money than they can afford. People feel tired and stressed out.
Balancing that, however, are increased levels of emotional support from families and friends that help people cope.2
Sightings: In an episode of the television comedy The Big Bang Theory ("The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis," original air date
Last updated: 1 February 2010
1. Cushman, Deborah. "Mayo Study Shows No Link Between Holidays, Suicide." The Des Moines Register. 11 December 1995 (p. 3). 2. Woods, Michael. "Holiday Blues? Bah, Humbug." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 4 December 1995 (p. A9).