A New Year's Spike in Poisonings

More

January 1 is unique among major holidays as a suicide flashpoint.

nye poisoini 787878ng 615.jpg.jpg.jpg
celesteh/flickr

Every 40 seconds, someone in the world commits suicide. In the U.S., we attempt to kill ourselves more on Mondays, and more in the spring than any other season. But major holidays can be protective. We attempt suicide less on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July. One holiday stands opposite to that trend, though. On New Year's Day, compared to non-holidays, we see "significantly higher numbers of suicide attempts by overdose."

That's what emergency medicine physician Gillian Beauchamp and her colleagues at the University of Cincinnati found when they reviewed over one million "ingestion with suicide intent" reports to Poison Control. Those included prescription, non-prescription (lots of Tylenol cases), and street drug ingestions (but didn't include violent self-injury).

Suicide is perennially among the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., and worldwide around one million people kill themselves every year. Beauchamp told me that number is rising, so she's working to identify risk factors like these, times at which people are most likely make to attempts, to stem the rise. This sort of information can both inform prevention and make sure facilities are staffed and ready to handle surges of poisoning or suicidal ideation admissions at high risk times.

The uniqueness of New Years Day in terms of suicide, by any manner of carrying it out, isn't new. In 1987, psychologist David Lester compiled data on suicide rates around major holidays, and similarly found that many fewer people kill themselves on major holidays as compared to other same days-of-the-week in the same seasons -- except for January 1.

Beauchamp told me one possible explanation is that New Year's Day, like Mondays, and spring -- which likewise carry senses of new beginnings, and you'd think might convey positive feelings of opportunity -- may motivate some suicidally depressed people to act on the intentions they'd been considering for a while. New Year's Day also means the end of the holiday season for many, when they go back to relatively lonely times after temporary reprieve of social support.

So the University of Cincinnati physicians hope this can inform and improve suicide prevention measures and depression treatment. In the immediate term, though, an excuse for us all to make sure everyone in our lives knows they're loved and appreciated.

Jump to comments
Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

 
 
More

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In