The holiday season gives rise to a flood of memories. When I was a child we spent part of the holidays with my grandma. She lived on a dairy farm at Port Campbell. Her son and his family managed the farm. It was a simple life. There was no electricity and no running water. I usually had one bath with water sourced from the tank. It wasn’t sufficient to cover my ankles. My father would take us fishing. It is a rugged, treacherous coastline and accessing our fishing spots wasn’t without its risks. Some of the rock ledges were perched precariously above the water line and the odd rogue wave would swirl around our feet. I recall one occasion when fortunately I was sitting straddling a rock and a wave crashed over me. I remember the concerned yet relieved look my father gave me when the water receded. Although drenched to the skin I was safe and a possible tragedy had been averted.
Sadly, the holiday season is often marked by tragedy. This past week there have been reports of people being caught in rips and drowning, multiple incidences of road trauma, unprovoked acts of physical violence, drug related emergencies, devastating bush fires, and destructive flash floods. We have seen people behaving recklessly while others have been unprepared or caught off guard, unaware of the imminent danger. Tragically, lives have been lost.
It is often reported in the media that suicides increase during the holiday season but this is not true. Researchers argue that around Christmas time most people with suicidal thoughts are offered some degree of protection by the proximity of their friends and relatives. Social identity is an important buffer against stress and depression and holidays offer meaningful opportunities to maximise social connection. It is also important to note as psychiatrist, Christine Moutier, suggests that the stress we associate with the holiday season isn’t the kind of stress that leads to suicide.
In Australia we recognise that heatwaves and high temperatures can have a dramatic impact on people’s physical health but do they contribute to suicide risk? The data seems to suggest that consistently hot weather is not a factor. Rather, sudden spikes in average temperatures can be attributed as a risk factor for suicide. Researcher, Xin Qi, found that based on Australia’s climate, the high risk seasons for suicide are spring and early summer.
Dr Brian Kassarr, a member of the Counselling and Psychological Services at the Montana State University offers several explanations as to why this might be so. He says it has been suggested that a depressed person becomes more depressed and hopeless when surrounded by the symbolic “rebirth” that comes with spring. Someone who is depressed may not be able to enjoy the weather or participate in relationships or outdoor activities, which may further their sense of sadness or isolation.
Although these theories are worthy of further exploration we need to remind ourselves that there are multiple factors that contribute to suicide risk.