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Holiday season suicide spikes: The facts and myths

Suicide is not more common during the holiday season, despite what you may have been hearing for years.

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Claudio Divizia, ThinkStock

In fact, in New Jersey last year, December tied for the fewest number of suicides, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the past five years total, only three months – January, February and April – saw fewer suicides in the Garden State.

Morris County resident Wendy Sefcik, an outreach worker for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, quickly learned the holiday-suicide connection was just a myth after her 16-year-old son took his own life on Dec. 1, 2010. Her research showed her no evidence points to an uptick in Christmas time suicides.

“While we’re not sure exactly why. One of the reasons that we’ll speculate is that because around the holidays, there is this feeling of family,” she said. “They’re surrounding each other and providing more support around the holidays.”

In response to T.J.’s tragic death, the Sefcik family created a program that aims to educate students and parents on signs of depression, and prevent other teens from following the same path.

Suicide prevention: More ways to get help

While suicide rates show no statistical spike this time of year, someone prone to depression could have a harder time around the holidays, according to Dr. Anthony Tasso, chair of the psychology department at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

“This is a time where someone may go into those holiday gatherings with the expectation that everything is going to be wonderful and glorious, and then if it’s not, it can be very deflating,” Tasso said.

As advice to those who may struggle to handle the added anxiety and stress of the holiday season, Tasso said certain “trigger points” should be avoided. If you feel depressed when you’re alone, try to stay active. Alcohol and other intoxicants can make one feel more vulnerable as well.

“For some people, they may need to completely avoid the use of alcohol this time of year,” he said.

Additional tips include starting a new holiday tradition, such as an outing or vacation, or helping others.

Anyone with suicidal thoughts should not ignore them, Tasso said. There are multiple outlets in New Jersey and nationally for those who may need someone to speak with.

  • New Jersey Hopeline: 1-855-654-6735
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • CONTACT Community Helpline: 1-877-266-8222
  • 2nd Floor Youth Helpline: 1-888-222-2228

According to the CDC, 787 New Jersey residents committed suicide in 2015, compared to 786 in 2014.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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