It’s common knowledge that the holiday season, and more specifically the days around Christmas, sees a spike in suicides. Right? Wrong. Not true at all. But lazy TV news writers and reporters, and scores of jackasses who can’t think of anything original to say, and can’t be bothered to perform a simple Internet search, repeat this same fallacy year in and year out.
Now, I could lay out a bunch of statistics for you here, but that’s boring and stupid and it will take you roughly six seconds to perform that Internet Search I just mentioned, which will turn up well over a quarter-of-a-million articles, almost all of which start off with the same, basic statistics. Okay, jeez you lazy jackasses—click the link if you don’t believe me: https://www.google.com/#q=Christmas+suicide+spike
The myth about Christmas-time suicides was most likely birthed by an episode of “The Brady Bunch” wherein mother Carol loses her voice, and is unceremoniously kicked out of the church choir just before Christmas. Youngest daughter Cindy prays to a mall Santa, who manages to deliver the Christmas miracle of snow in Southern California on Christmas, but can do nothing for Carol’s voice. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Carol is locked in her bedroom, knocking back snifter after snifter of Brandy, and wrapping presents. As she finishes using the scissors to curl a ribbon, the song Carol was supposed to sing in the church choir comes on the radio. Carol begins trembling with anger, then viciously slashes at her wrists with the scissors. A short time later (after a commercial break) housekeeper Alice, attempting to deliver fresh pillowcases to the bedroom, realizes something is amiss, and kicks in the door. Alice uses her apron to keep Carol from bleeding out as Marcia, fresh from her driving contest victory over Greg, hilariously pilots the family station wagon through an open-air holiday market to the Emergency Room. Once mom is medically stable, a doctor, played by a pipe-smoking Paul Lynde, tells the family in a happily sadistic voice, “You’re lucky she lived—Christmas is absolutely the worst time of year for suicides.”
(Notice there was no actual mention of a spike in suicides.)
Following the episode, the network aired a public service announcement that involved the Brady kids singing their hit single “Sunshine Day.” Mike and Carol step into the foreground as the music softens, and say, “The holiday season can be tough. Don’t let suicide ruin your sunshine day. Get help.” Strangely enough, it was revealed several years later by the Parents Music Resource Center that back-masking on another Brady Bunch hit, “Time to Change” involved the first known use of the suicide instructional phrase, “Down the street, not across the road,” voiced by one Paul Lynde.
Now that your mind is totally blown, let’s get at the heart of the matter in all this. I don’t really care that people mistakenly think they know something about suicide in terms of just the basic issue of them being wrong. What is problematic is the idea of normalizing seasonal suicide. That is to say, when it is repeated over and over again that people kill themselves around Christmas, it can seem to those suffering from depression, or suffering from various other situational or seasonal forms of depression or mood disorders, or even just having normal reactions to aggressively annoying family members, that Christmas isn’t such a bad time to kill oneself. Join the club. It’s normal. No big deal. Suicidal gestures also get a pass in this form of thinking—‘maybe they’ll realize how much they’re hurting me if I hurt myself.’
Now, I’m all for normalizing suicidal thoughts—suicide not so much. Bear with me here—I think it’s valuable for people to know that suicidal thoughts are not a rare occurrence. Suicidal action often follows people believing they are all alone and that nobody understands them. If people realized that suicidal ideation occurs to a lot of people, and along a scale of ‘Maybe I should talk to somebody’ to ‘Holy shit! Why am I heading out into the woods with a loaded gun and a fifth of Monarch gin?’, then they might recognize that seeking help is a good idea. Furthermore, if more people were aware that a friend or family member expressing suicidal thoughts is not an occasion to panic or to plug one’s ears and start screaming ‘La la la—I can’t hear you!’ but an opportunity to open up a dialog and seek out help, then we could make some more progress not just on suicide, but on mental health issues in general.
In the good ol’ U.S. of A. we love our stories of suicide, murder, and mayhem. We love a good tragedy that we can sum up with a banal, and ill-informed comment like “Well, Christmas is when suicides occur the most.” What we have a harder time with is actually acknowledging that we have feelings other than ‘happy’ and ‘murderous,’ and that there are plenty of things that make us sad.
A client suffering from depression recently told me that she feels that at this time of year she can’t just back out of obligations other people have placed on her. If she would rather stay home and sleep, read, or watch a movie than go out to the seventeenth Christmas party she’s been invited to in the last two weeks, or spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day shuttling between various relatives’ houses for hectic feeding-frenzies and gift-giving-orgies, the people around her slip into panic mode—as if any expression of a desire to spend time alone is an indication she wants to go kill herself. She attributes this insistence that she be happy and perpetually moving to the idea that Christmas is the time people kill themselves. In short, she ends up feeling exhausted and out of sorts, because she is trying to prove to people that she is not suicidal—which, she jokingly added, just makes her want to kill herself and/or leaves her in fear that she might drop dead from exhaustion.
So…yeah…Christmas doesn’t, as a rule, provoke suicide. And if we could all embrace the real ‘holiday spirit’ of actually connecting with each other, instead of pushing ourselves through marathon ‘base-touching’ sessions with people we ignore the rest of the year; if we could learn to communicate a range of emotions, and respond with caring, rather than indifference or panic, we might realize that because we are each dealing with our own, personal situations, all times of the year are the most wonderful time of the year (and the most depressing time of the year, and the most mundane time of the year, and…)