Depression and suicide rates actually fall during the holidays, contrary to past reports, according to a new study available Friday.
The number of suicides goes down, not up, over the holiday season, by as much as 40 percent, according to the study conducted by a team of U.S. researchers.
The researchers came to the conclusion by examining hundreds of thousands of suicides in the United States and around the world.
Pointing to the Christmas season as a cause of increased depression and risk for suicide is just wrong, said Dan Romer, director of the Annenberg Adolescent Risk Communication Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.
In one of the most thorough examinations of what researchers call acts of deliberate self-harm, which can be an indication of depression, Helen Bergen, research scientist at the University of Oxford, found that Christmas, for most people, is protective.
Drug or alcohol overdoses, self-poisoning with gas or other harmful substances and self-inflicted injuries-- with or without the deliberate intention to die -- all decreased from average levels during the week of Dec. 19-26, Bergen and his colleagues found, and these lowered levels held through New Year's Day.
The decrease in rates of self-inflicted damage before, on and immediately after Christmas and into the New Year was found regardless of age, family connections or social isolation, the researchers reported in the December issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Even people with family relationship problems were less inclined to attempt to hurt themselves during the holidays. "These findings are contrary to the popular view that Christmas is a time of stress and arguments," Bergen says. Perhaps, she said, problems within the nuclear family ease up instead of intensify when the extended family is around.
Another possible reason why depression and suicide rates fall this time of year is that the season, more than other times, is one of giving.
"People tend to reach out over the holidays," said Dr. Douglas Jacobs, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. Elderly people in nursing homes might suddenly get visitors. People who haven't heard from friends all year might get a card or a phone call.
(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency December 24, 2007)