Why George Bailey’s Suicide Attempt Is A Statistical Outlier

Dec 20, 2013

Portland and Spokane have been trying to prevent people from jumping off the cities' iconic bridges. In the last few weeks, police in both cities have responded to suicides or attempted suicides.

George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, rethinks a plan to kill himself in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Credit National Telefilm Associates

Many people believe the gloomy weather at this time of year increases the suicide rate. But as correspondent Jessica Robinson reports, that’s just not true.

The media has done a lot to promote this particular myth. An annual survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds news stories repeat it year after year. And just recently on the Fox comedy “The Mindy Project” …

Mark Duplass as Brendan Deslaurier: “Holidays are always hardest on the lonely. Suicide rates do go up, as we all know.” 

Actually … they don't. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is – in fact – lowest in December.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner Ryan Townsend works in Washington State University's school of nursing in Spokane. He says one theory is that spring represents a broken promise - the sun is out, but the person still doesn't feel better. 

"The true increase comes around in April and early summer," Townsend says. 

In contrast, he says the holidays can be a comforting time, “People are around their families. They're often out doing things because of the holidays.”

Townsend says the myth can actually be harmful if it keeps friends and family from looking for warning signs of suicide at other times of the year.

Oregon and Idaho are consistently among the states with the highest suicide rates.

Copyright Northwest News Network 2013.