0451 GMT July 20, 2019
Night falls before you have left work, your very best winter coat does not really keep you warm enough and the only thing you have to look forward to is sitting on your parent’s couch and realizing that you have not really changed since you were 14. The holidays are hard.
But are they harder than the rest of the year? It’s a question I was asked by one of you and the data I found came as a surprise to me, theguardian.com wrote.
In 2011, a study titled ‘The Christmas Effect on Psychopathology’ reviewed the available research on this question (psychopathology is the study of mental health). The authors found that ER visits for mental health issues actually fell during the week of Christmas.
Other studies have reached similar conclusions. In a 2008 article titled ‘Festive Medical Myths’ from the British Medical Journal, two professors of pediatrics listed misconceptions such as “sugar causes hyperactivity in children” (apparently the differences in behavior exist in parents’ minds) and also “suicides increase over the holidays.”
Research in Alaska about mid-winter depression reached also found that the weather did not correlate with mental illness.
The most recent study to look at this in detail in the US was conducted over seven years, between 1972 and 1979. Using data about hospital visits to the Duke University medical center emergency room located in Durham, North Carolina, the researchers spotted a trend. Psychiatric visits fell over the holiday period but rose again immediately afterwards.
Fascinatingly, Google search data mirrors this hospital data. When Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post added up the searches for “depression,” “anxiety,” “pain,” “stress” and “fatigue,” he discovered that Christmas Day had the lowest number of sad searches.
This all seems very counterintuitive, and it did even in the 1970s, when the Durham researchers conducted their study. In the conclusion, they listed common holiday stresses, many of which are still relevant now, some not so much: Biological (changed sleep and activity patterns), psychological (activated conflicts about childbirth, sibling rivalry, ageing, magical regressive wishes, anniversary reactions), and social (increased contact with family members, increased demands for money).
But the authors also have a theory as to why, despite this, ER visits drop during the holidays:
Leaning on others is crucial, and hopefully, it is easier to do at this time of year.
If you need to talk to someone, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-TALK (8255) in the US. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
* Mona Chalabi is a data editor at the Guardian US.