JEFFERSON CITY - The holidays are the most unlikely time for people to commit suicide, contrary to many media stories released annually.
Numerous media outlets each year report the rumor that the holiday season sees a spike in suicides, said a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who is releasing, for the twelfth year in a row, that this is a myth.
Dan Romer, the director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn State, began researching the trend of holiday suicides in 1999. He said although there were about 60 stories released during that time reporting the holidays would see a jump in suicide numbers, that claim actually proved to be false. Romer said he is about to release his 12th report, which finds the same results as the past eleven.
"It's never been true as long as people have kept records in the northern hemisphere that there's more deaths at this time of the year due to suicide," Romer said.
According to Romer's research, the most common time for suicides to occur is the spring season. Romer said the increase begins in April or May and often times continues into June and July, finally dipping back down in November. However, he said stories continue to be released every year stating that the holidays will see the highest number of suicides.
Romer said he thinks the reason for the increases and decreases in suicides is seasonal changes, although no exact cause has been scientifically determined. He said the increase in light and length of days during the springtime gives people more energy, and many times that extra energy might lead to committing suicide. However, he said many people think the spring weather and increase in light would have the opposite effect on people's behavior, and Romer said that is why so many people believe this long-standing myth.
"There's a lot of human interest, self-help stories that get written around the holidays about how people deal with the blues and the downside of the holidays," Romer said, "because everyone thinks the holidays are a happy time. So a lot of times reporters will say, 'Well, you have to think about those people who are really sad and depressed ...'"
Romer said many reporters hear rumors or simply think the idea of people suffering from the "holiday blues" makes sense, and so they report on it, many times without checking facts. However, he also said he has seen psychiatrists quoted, saying they believe the myth is true as well. What it comes down to is a long-standing myth that many reporters can't seem to shake, he said. Romer has established guidelines for reporters on the website reportingonsuicide.com to prevent reporters from negatively reporting on suicides.