BLOG: Examining the myths around suicide and the holiday season

Categories: Blog, Featured News

family-holiday“Suicide rates peak around the holidays.” You’ve probably heard or read a headline like this, but unfortunately it is one of the biggest myths around suicide prevention that continues to be perpetuated. In fact, suicide rates actually decline and are the lowest in November, December and January according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics ». The decline in suicide deaths has been speculated that the holidays are a time when many people give back, reach out and reconnect with those who may be lonely or struggling around the holidays. People tend to experience more connection and inclusion around the holidays with families and friends and communities seem to be more compassionate.

The data that suicide rates do not peak around the holiday holds true in Stark County, as data from 2002-2015 (with no data for 2011-2012) shows that March and August have the highest suicide rates over the 14 year period, with January and April having the lowest rates (in that time frame).

Although the holidays can be stressful for many, this is often not the type of stress that is long-lasting or may lead a person to suicide (more common risk factors that may increase the likelihood that a person may attempt or die by suicide include a previous suicide attempt, family history of suicide, experienced a recent loss or major change, untreated mental illness or substance use or trauma).

Even though suicide rates do not peak around the holidays, we must always remain diligent in preventing suicide deaths. In 2015, 59 individuals in Stark County died by suicide. According to the Stark County Coroner’s Office (as of December 19, 2016), 74 individuals have died by suicide. Although this is a grim statistic, suicide is preventable and all residents can help reduce this number, reduce social stigma and ultimately save lives.

Knowing the warning signs of suicide can be an essential piece in preventing suicide: talking or writing about suicide; giving away belongings; withdrawing from loved ones and activities; feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless; changes in mood, eating or sleeping habits; increased use of alcohol or other drugs; seeking ways to suicide.

You may be asking, how can I help? The first step is simple: talk and listen. Have conversations with your family, friends and young people in your lives. Talk about suicide and ask if they have ever thought about harming themselves or taking their life. If they say yes, it can be a scary thing, but remember to stay calm and not be judgmental as you listen. The fact they chose to be honest with you shows they trust you and may want help. Another common myth is that asking about someone about suicide will make them think about it, this could not be further from the truth. Asking will show someone you care and allow them to get help. Take any threats or statements of suicide seriously, and ask for help if you aren’t sure what to do. Encourage them that help is available and that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of – about 20% of the U.S. population has a mental illness » (NAMI, 2015).

There’s also preventative steps you can take to help manage your stress, which can positively impact your mental health: eat healthy, get enough rest, exercise regularly and develop a support system of people you can talk to. It’s also important to develop coping skills to help when you feel overwhelmed. Some of these may include journaling, listening to or playing music, playing a sport, talking and laughing with friends, reading, meditation or breathing exercises.

Remember, there is no one cause or event that causes a person to feel suicidal. There are often multiple stressors that make a person feel out of control, trapped or unable to change. The more that community can be informed about suicide prevention, the more likely that we will impact those around us.

If you need assistance, for yourself or someone else, call 911 in an emergency. You can also contact the Crisis Center Hotline at 330-452-6000, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help and advice. The National Crisis Text Line is available by texting 4hope to 741 741. These resources are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including all holidays.

If you have any questions, or are interested in getting involved in the community to address this issue in Stark County, please contact Allison Esber at 330-455-6644 or visit StarkMHAR.org/SuicidePrevention.


About Allison Esber

Allison Esber serves as the Coalition and Community Development Coordinator at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery (StarkMHAR). She is the adult adviser for Stark County Youth Led Prevention and works to engage schools and the community in substance use prevention. Allison also serves as the Coordinator for the Stark County Suicide Prevention Coalition which strives to reduce suicide deaths in Stark County. Prior to her work at StarkMHAR, Allison had volunteered and worked on a 24-hour crisis hotline for nearly four years after completing a dual-bachelors degree in Psychology and Sociology with a concentration in criminal justice. She completed her Masters of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University in May 2015. Allison is a licensed social worker and a certified prevention specialist assistant. She is also an instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid, QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer) and CALM-Counseling on Access to Lethal Means.