The Annenberg Public Policy Center reported that the holiday-suicide myth has persisted in the news cycle through the 2021-22 holidays.
The holiday-suicide myth is a false claim that the suicide rate rises during the year-end holiday season. In fact, according to provisional data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December had the fewest average daily suicides of any month as of 2020.
The APPC presented its findings on Dec. 5 from an annual analysis of news coverage of the myth. The analysis found that slightly more than half of the stories that directly discussed the holidays and the suicide rate supported the false myth, while the remainder debunked it. This did not stray from findings from previous years.
"We have consistently found that the winter months of November, December, and January are the lowest, or close to lowest, every year, and there is no evidence of a surge in suicides during the end-of-year holidays," said Dan Romer, research director for the APPC.
The APPC has studied news coverage of the holiday-suicide myth for the last 23 holiday seasons, beginning in 1999.
“In most of those years, more newspaper stories supported the myth than debunked it, as was the case over the 2021-22 holidays,” the APPC reported.
The annual study identifies and analyzes news and feature stories that link suicide with the holidays from the LexisNexis and NewsBank databases. Researchers at the APPC then determine whether the stories supported the link, debunked it, or showed a coincidental reference. Their findings are presented annually.
“Our experience in tracking news stories about suicide over the holidays shows how difficult it is to stamp out this myth,” Romer said.
While data does not support the claim that suicide rates increase during the holiday seasons, news coverage of the myth that does not actively debunk it can have consequences.
“Allowing people to think that suicide is more likely during the holiday season can have contagious effects on people who are contemplating suicide,” APPC said.