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 are some data from Annenberg and the National Center for Health Statistics.

• An Annenberg study of 300 news stories printed since 2000 found that there are fewer incidents of the media falsely reporting the holiday-suicides correlation. In 2004-2005, 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; it’s third for those 15 to 24. The youth suicide rate has been declining slowly 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 news stories about individual suicides, when a death is reported at length, when a suicide story leads the news and when suicide headlines are dramatic.

• A coalition of health-related groups recommends 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 should avoid using the word “suicide” in headlines.

Sacramento County Suicide Prevention Crisis Line: (916) 368-3111 (open 24-seven) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255) (open 24-seven)