Debunking myths about suicide and the holidays

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Christmas is known to many as the most wonderful time of the year, yet a popular idea also exists that suicide rates in the United States increase during the holiday season.

However, research shows there is no more reason to worry about the suicide rate during the holidays than in any other time of the year. There is no statistical evidence that shows suicide increasing during the winter season.

November and December are the months with the fewest suicides, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perpetuating the myth that wintertime sees an increase in suicide can be very damaging to those who may be suffering with suicidal thoughts.

Studies show that for the past 50 years, suicide rates tend to increase in the spring, when the weather begins to warm up.

“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,” said Dr. Steven Scholzman in a blog post for the Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds. “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.”

Statistical research shows the relative risk of suicide increases most during the transition between winter and spring. (Psychiatry Letter)

There are some theories that suggest 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.

“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,” said an article written for The Atlantic. “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 on the subject is currently in process.

Regardless of the season, it is always important to be watchful and observant of individuals who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know may be struggling, please visit the National Prevention website for resources.

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