Psychologist Busts Holiday Myths, Urban Legends

High suicide rates and family conflict will make holiday headlines in the media this year, just as in year’s past. However, David Rudd, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech says both topics are an urban legend created by repetition that isn’t supported by factual data.

DATE: Nov. 30, 2006
CONTACT: John Davis, john.w.davis@ttu.edu
(806) 742-2136

High suicide rates and family conflict will make holiday headlines in the media this year, just as in year’s past.

However, David Rudd, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech says both topics are an urban legend created by repetition that isn’t supported by factual data.

“Every year, the media do stories on these topics,” Rudd said. “High holiday suicide rates and family conflict horror stories really are just urban myths. If it gets repeated enough, people start to believe it. But, there’s really no empirical data that suggests that these two issues are as big as they’re portrayed by the media.”

When it comes to suicide rates during the winter holidays, Rudd said they’re at the lowest point for the year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide is most common in the spring and least common in the winter. But a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found about half of all “holiday blues” stories in 2000 directly attributed suicide to the holidays. Also, several studies have found fewer psychiatric admissions and emergency room visits during the holidays, including other holidays during the year.

The general belief is that the holidays are actually characterized by greater cohesion and emotional support rather than conflict, and the extra support makes a difference, Rudd said. Holidays are characterized by increased frequency of family gatherings and a general sense of hopefulness about the coming year. Also, the increased awareness of the potential for problems translates to added community support.

Though many people complain that family conflict is an inevitable part of the holidays, Rudd said that serious conflict that results in domestic violence and injury rarely rears its head.

“Some people may say ‘Yes, I have conflict with my family over the holidays,’ but the data show that most people are on their best behavior during the holidays,” he said. “It’s kind of like a funeral. You don’t have a lot of family conflict during a funeral because it’s a special occasion, and most people comply with the social pressure to behave.

“If we look at this from a different perspective, data on community violence and injury evidence lower rates during the winter months, with peaks during the summer months and early fall.”

CONTACT: David Rudd, chairman of the Department of Psychology, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-0818 David.Rudd@ttu.edu.