Checking (it) out

With the holiday season over, suicide rates are beginning to drop—whoops! Turns out the seasonal suicide correlation often reported by the press is not true at all, and social service agencies and the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania have launched an effort to debunk the myth. They’re fearful that vulnerable people thinking of taking their own lives may copycat (called “suicide contagion”) and choose the holiday season for their final exit. Following is some data from Annenberg and the National Center for Health Statistics.

• An Annenberg Center study of 300 news stories printed since 2000 found that there are fewer incidents of the media falsely reporting the holiday-suicides correlation. In 2004-05, 32 percent of stories linking holidays and suicide supported the myth, while in 1999-2000, 60 percent did so.

• In reality, suicide rates peak in the spring and fall, and are at their lowest in December.

• Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for adults; third for those 15 to 24. The youth suicide rate has been slowly declining since 1992.

• Suicide rates are highest among whites and second-highest among American Indian and Native Alaskan men.

• Celebrity suicides are more likely to prompt imitators.

• Academic studies indicate that suicides go up when: there are more new stories about individual suicides; when a death is reported at length; when a story leads the news; and when suicide headlines are dramatic.

• A coalition of health-related groups recommend the media should not: run stories idealizing someone who took his or her own life; describe suicide methods in detail or show pictures of where it took place and avoid using the word “suicide” in headlines.

• The local 24-hour suicide hotline is 530-891-2810, or 1-800-334-6622. Youths call 1-800-371-4373. Nationally, call 1-800-784-2433.