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Suicide and the Holidays

Examining myths surrounding suicide and the holidays.

Suicide attempts increase during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, right? Wrong. Suicide rates actually decrease during the holidays. It is commonly thought that holiday stress increases suicide attempts, but that simply isn't the case. Actually, the lower incident of suicides is now thought to be related to family time and the support this generates.

There were 38,364 suicides in the United States in 2010, making it the 12th leading cause of death—more people died from suicide than automobile accidents. While fleeting thoughts of suicide are experienced by many, suicide threats often go ignored. Suicide is often associated with depression, which is very treatable. Suicide is not a sign of weakness and it isn't about seeking attention or being selfish, yet these myths continue. Here are some other myths surrounding suicide:

Myth: If you ask someone about suicidal thoughts, it may trigger them to act out.

Fact: Talking to someone about suicide will not give them the idea. It may be unsettling and you might not know what to do, but actually talking about it will help. Thoughts of suicide should be discussed if suspected in a family member or friend. Many suicide survivors say if anyone had shown interest or compassion right before the act they would not have done it.

Myth: People who talk about suicide are not the ones that do it.

Fact: Threatening or talking about suicide is the number one warning sign. Too often we hear after-the-fact that a suicide victim threatened to end his life but it wasn't taken seriously. Joking or not, all suicidal threats should be taken seriously.

Myth: Suicide is an impulsive act.

Fact: Suicide is usually planned weeks, months and sometimes even years in advance. During this time, the person almost always shares thoughts of despair, depression or suicide, even if it's in a joking manner. Some suicides can be impulsive, but that's the exception.

Myth: The elderly do not commit suicide.

Fact: The elderly are most likely to successfully complete suicide.

Myth: Minorities are most likely to commit suicide.

Fact: Whites and as I discuss, particularly white men, are more likely to commit suicide. Although the absolute reasons are unknown, it is suspected the differences in social support may play a role.

Myth: Young people are not at risk to commit suicide. They use it as a threat to get attention.

Fact: Teen suicide is a real threat. Thinking it cannot happen to your teen is a dangerous and deadly way to think. Teen suicides have almost doubled over the last 50 years.

Myth: There's nothing you can do if someone wants to commit suicide.

Fact: No one really wants to die, but couple depression with hopelessness and helplessness and suicide can seem like the only way out. Suicidal feelings do not last forever. Depression can be treated; personal problems that create crises come and go. When those contemplating suicide have someone to talk to they often will agree to get help.

Myth: Suicide victims always leave a note.

Fact: Roughly 25 percent of suicide victims leave a note. They are consumed by isolation and loneliness, and writing a note seems absolutely pointless when they also think no one cares and that others would be better off without them.

Myth: Anyone who is about to attempt suicide has already made up their mind and there is nothing you can do.

Fact: NAMI indicates that more than half of suicidal victims sought help before their death. Seeking help obviously indicates they did not want to die.

Myth: Suicide is selfish.

Fact: Suicide is not a selfish act but rather an act of desperation by someone experiencing unbearable pain who doesn't know how to make that pain stop. The two most prominent predictors of suicide are clinical depression and substance abuse/dependence. The person isn't thinking logically or clearly. Recent research indicates there could also be a genetic link.

Myth: If someone really wants to die we should let them.

Fact: Kevin Hines, who jumped off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and lived says in his recent book, Cracked, Not Broken (about those who jumped off the bridge), “Of the survivors, 19 of them have come forward and expressed words to this effect: 'The second my hands and feet left the rail I realized I had made a mistake. I realized how much I needed to live, or didn’t want to die.'”

Myth: Anyone who attempts or commits suicide is depressed.

Fact: While the majority of suicides are committed by depressed individuals, that is not always the case. Alcohol plays a role in 1 in 3 successful suicides.

If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, talk, talk, talk about it, and insist on an immediate appointment with a mental health professional. Ask direct questions to find out what they're thinking. Your questions will not push them over the edge, but rather will give them an opportunity to convey how they feel which definitely will reduce the risk of acting out. If you feel this person is a danger to themselves, do not leave him alone. Call 911 or take him to the nearest ER. Also, be sure to tell a family member or friend.

As families and friends gather together this holiday season, if you suspect someone of having thoughts of suicide, speak up. It could be the greatest gift you give.

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