Suicide rate lowest during the holidays
Awareness is key to prevention
By Michael Maresh
Journal Staff Writer
Despite the common belief is that most suicides occur during the holiday season, it is actually not the case.
Sally Spencer-Thomas, clinical psychologist, chief executive officer and one of the founders of the Parson J. Spencer Foundation, which works on suicide prevention strategies, said some reasons why suicides are not higher during the holidays deal with having family close by and the hope that the new year will bring better things.
Spencer-Thomas said a good percentage of suicides occur in the spring, not the winter or late fall.
“It’s a myth,” she said about the misconception that suicide rates are higher during the holiday season. “It’s a time when suicides are the lowest.”
But for those who are already depressed, the holidays can make them more difficult, she said.
She said the loss of a loved one and seeing the empty chair where the deceased used to sit is tough, while others are affected by the shorter days and less sunlight.
Conversely, she said when the weather gets better and people venture outside to participate in activities is when numerous suicides take place as already depressed people get more depressed while others outside are having a good time.
“They lose hope and gain energy by the longer days,” Spencer-Thomas said. “When you live in a happy place and you are sad, you are one looking to take your life.”
Those suffering from depression often lose energy and all hope that things will turn around.
Spencer-Thomas advises individuals thinking of suicide to surround themselves with family and friends to help them make healthy choices.
Some of the choices like spending or gambling too much can be triggers for a person already depressed.
“Enjoy yourself but in moderation,” she said.
Sally Bossenmaier, bereavement coordinator of Hospice of Montezuma said the assumption is that suicide rates go up during the holidays but agreed it is not the case.
She said it is generally believed because people tend to reach out more during the holidays, people are more giving during this season, and there are more social activities that provide support and connection for individuals.
Still, Bossenmaier said the holidays are a stressful time for some individuals and suicide remains a major health problem in society as the winter months induce seasonal affective disorder in many individuals.
People sometimes suffer depression, and have divergent expectations during the holidays while alcohol and drug consumption also play a role in suicidal thoughts and tendencies, she said.
“If you are feeling depressed or hopeless, don’t try to self medicate. Drugs and alcohol increase depression and impulsivity which increases the risk of suicide,” she said
She said these persons need to seek support and connection. “Family, friends, church, and other support agencies all are ways to help to offset the feeling of separateness and isolation that increase the risk of depression and suicide,” Bossenmaier said.
“If you are in distress seek out a mental health specialist or call 911,” she said. “It is important to take all talk of suicide seriously and seek help if a person talks about killing himself.”
She said reaching out and being of service to others creates a natural process of helping the brain focus on the positive in life and reduces the risk of depression and suicide.
Jarod Hindman, program director of the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention, believes isolation is one cause for suicides, which is one reason why they do not happen as much during the holiday season since many people are surrounded by family and friends.
There were nine suicides in Montezuma County in 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. No data has yet been published for 2011, but at least three county deaths are believed to have been suicides so far in 2012.
If someone is suicidal, he or she is asked to call 911 or get support at 1-800-273-8255.
Hospice of Montezuma holds a suicide support group for anyone who has been affected by a suicide. They meet the last Thursday of each month at 6:15 p.m. Contact Hospice of Montezuma for details at 565-4400.