The myth of christmas suicides

According to a current study, most suicides in Austria are not committed over the Christmas holidays, but at the beginning of January. Otherwise the rate remains constant.

That the number of suicides increases over the Christmas holidays is one of the most persistent myths among the population. The media contribute to this by reporting on this alleged phenomenon at least once a year – usually in late November or early December.

As reasons for this, for example, the contradictions between the Ideal picture of the healthy family and emerging problems that would occur especially at Christmas. In addition, the cold and dark winter time favored the already existing tendencies towards withdrawal and isolation of people with depression and other mental illnesses.

Everything sounds pretty logical and understandable. But that’s not true. At least as far as the increased suicide rate over the Christmas holidays is concerned. Because a current study by Salzburg researchers shows that the number of suicides is falling significantly these days. And it only rises at the beginning of January in order to then assume an average value again (see graphic above).

Only two deviations

"We were able to demonstrate for the first time in Austria that the fewest suicides are committed over Christmas," says internist David Niederseer. He is one of the authors of the paper, which he published together with the psychologist and psychotherapist Martin Plöderl from Suicide Prevention Salzburg as the first author in the renowned magazine "European Journal of Public Health".

"At the beginning of January there is an increase, otherwise the number of people who commit suicide remains relatively constant over the year," explains Niederseer. “Even during other holidays or religious celebrations such as Easter, this component seems to have little or no impact role to play."

For the study of suicide prevention Salzburg and the Oberndorf hospital, the researchers evaluated the data from Statistics Austria over a period of 13 years (2000 to 2013). They have no explanation for the falling rate over the Christmas holidays, but only hypotheses. "One reason could be that people at risk of suicide are distracted by family and company celebrations at Christmas and find recognition," says Niederseer. "So that the comparatively more intensive social interaction means that they get other ideas these days."

In his opinion, the fact that somewhat more suicides will be documented again in early January could have been caused by the “broken promise effect”. So after a big event in which you had a lot of hope but was disappointed, you are so depressed that you commit suicide.

1313 suicides in Austria

According to Statistics Austria, there were a total of 1,313 suicide deaths in Austria in 2014. Most of these were committed in Lower Austria (275), Vienna (237) and Styria (220) – followed by Upper Austria (191), Tyrol (108), Carinthia (104), Salzburg (98), Vorarlberg (45) and the Burgenland (35).


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Christina Cherry
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