Media are in a catch-22 situation regarding reporting on the holiday season. On the one hand, there’s the push to spread the news that this is the season when sales are high and consumers spend more than any other time of the year. Sales and shopping lines, shipping costs, and timely deliveries consume the headlines for weeks, while the impact of COVID-19, travel safety, and the high cost of gas, airfare and food compete for the same attention.
In addition, how the holidays impact physical, emotional and mental health also compete with warnings that suggest the best ways to get through what is described as one of the most stressful seasons of the year.
However, the good news, so to speak, is a report issued recently by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania that debunks the myth that the year-end holiday season is the time when suicides rise. In fact, APPC reported, “although the U.S. suicide rate increased in 2021 after two years of declines, the average daily suicide rate during the holiday months remained among the lower rates of the year.”
Yet, it appears that media organizations, including newspapers and broadcasters, continue to perpetuate the false myth despite APPC’s efforts to “correct the popular misconception linking the holidays with suicide.”
The report considers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed reports from the Centers for Disease Control that suicides in 2021 were 4% higher than in 2020. Still, “the CDC noted that the monthly number of suicides was lower in 2021 than in 2020 in January, February, and July, and higher in all of the other months.”
The report highlighted, “In 2021, the average number of U.S. suicide deaths per day in January and December put those two months among the lowest of the 12 months – 10th and 12th, respectively.”
“For some people, this may be an emotionally fraught time of year,” said Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “With stories focusing on the holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder, and other changes in the seasons, there are a lot of factors that would seem to support the myth. There is also a concern for those who have lost friends and family during the year and who may be experiencing sadness about those losses. But we should not assume that these experiences lead people to suicide.”
We agree with APPC that “this suicide myth must be debunked because allowing people to think that suicide is more likely during the holiday season can have contagious effects on people who are contemplating suicide.”
Clearly, we are tougher and more resilient than we think, and the holiday season brings more hope and promise than anxiety and strife. APPC strongly urges media organizations to stop perpetuating the myth, and we will abide. However, if readers have strong feelings, we advise you to dial 988 to get the help you need.