Myths surrounding suicide

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Why does the suicide rate increase around Christmas time?

Answer: It is only a myth that the suicide rate rises during the Christmas holiday. Research indicates that people may be shielded from suicide during the Christmas holiday because of the proximity of relatives and friends. In contrast to any holiday, the suicide rate tends to peak during the springtime.

There are a number of myths concerning suicide. Some have proposed that people are more likely to commit suicide during a downturn in the economy. Statistics on suicide indicate that the suicide rate increase during economic depression and during economic boom. The theory is that some people commit suicide during an economic boom as a result of feeling left behind. Interestingly, some sociologists have found that happiness is less affected by what money can buy than by people’s financial standing in relation to peers—the perception of being left behind.

Another myth is that the suicide rate increases during times of great strife and war. However, during times of national crisis and insecurity there tends to be a national cohesiveness.

I remember well 9/11/2001. I have never felt more vulnerable at any time before or after that date, and I do not recall ever experiencing a sense of national unity that I felt that day. As I left the YKHC Headquarters building at noon that day to join the community for prayer at the City office building, a group had gathered on the second floor of the Y-K building singing God Bless America. I could not find statistics for the United States, but one study looking at data from England and Wales found the suicide rate lower for the month of September 2001 than any other month that year.

Some have put forth the idea that people commit suicide for rational reasons, but psychiatrists debunk this idea, believing instead that over 90% of suicides are attempted and completed by those with a mental disorder. When there is a suicide, particularly by someone well known, or popular, there does seem to be an increase in what has come to be known as copycat suicides, and this is unrelated to a holiday, or a particularly stressful situation.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].