I've seen and heard the idea that suicide and depression are more common during the winter holidays. On Day 5 I discussed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which could be the culprit behind some holiday blues, but for this post I wanted to focus on the question of whether suicide and depression are directly linked to the holidays. The primary need for an answer this question is to clear up all myths about the holiday. An increased risk of suicide and/or depression is often used by those against the holiday. While it is evident from my previous post that I am not "for" the holiday, I believe it is important to stick with arguments that can be proven.
Does Christmas Cause Depression?
If it could be proven that there was a link between depression and Christmas, one could make the claim that Christmas and its pagan origins were obviously bad and not part of God's plan. Some people have, in fact, made this claim despite evidence showing that suicide rates actually decline around the Christmas holiday. Their claim is based on two widespread beliefs that are false: 1) suicide rates and severe depression increase during the holidays and 2) following God never causes suffering. We're going to talk about each, followed by a look at the actual mood of the holidays.
Suicide Rates & Depression During the Holidays
According to almost every source I've found, suicide rates and depression do not increase during the holidays (though they do increase after the new year). Many experience slight lows, SAD, and extra stress during the holidays which probably makes it appear that depression increases during the holidays. Parents become stressed about providing their children with an "adequate Christmas" (which does show that God has been taken out of the equation). Some may spend more than they should, hence the slump after new years. Extra drinking may cause some to make poor decisions (another possibility for increasing suicide rates in the time frame directly after). Some conclude that the decline in suicide rates during the holidays is the fact that people are surrounded by their family and are supported. Of course, it is possible that families and friends encourage people to spend or drink more than they should, causing the slump at the new year. It is also possible that judgments from family and friends during the holidays could cause people to make new years' resolutions they can't keep and then fall in to depression. Regardless, there isn't a study to show that those who participate in holiday traditions do or do not experience an increase in suicide or depression after the new year, thus no conclusions can be made. While the causes of stress during the holiday season point to the ungodly nature of the traditions, increased suicide/depression is not an argument people should be trying to use against the holiday.
Following God Can Still Cause Pain
Many preachers today preach prosperity. Their sermons focus on what you gain by following Christ and only mention peace, prosperity, and success. The danger in this is that they omit much of what we are shown in the Bible as well as the fact that prosperity on Earth was for the old covenant. When Jesus was crucified, we stepped into the end of days, an era of persecution for all of those who truly believe and follow Jesus Christ. In the future, I will do studies on the end times that goes into more detail and explains misconceptions of naysayers, but for now I want to focus on the topic of pain and suffering for God's people. As the final day approaches, Jesus warn us that those who truly believe in Him will be killed and on several occasions He references those who are killed for His namesake. This does not sound like we should expect prosperity here on Earth...
In the Old Testament, notable favorites of God are Abel, Noah, Job, and Moses.
Note that Abel's favor in God's eye sight sparks wrath in his brother and subsequently causes Abel's death. The only success we know of Abel's is that His offering pleased God. Hebrews 11:4 tells us that it was Abel's faith that caused God to be pleased with His offering; we don't know if Abel had a large flock, how old Abel lived to be, or whether he married. Assumably he didn't have children as none are mentioned and Eve wants a son to replace both Abel and Cain, which implies she had no grandchildren to adopt. Abel may not have felt any suffering, but it is also possible that Abel knew for quite some time that his brother was jealous of him. Abel had favor with God, not with man.
Noah survived the flood; he and his family were spared God's wrath thanks to Noah's righteousness. Genesis 6-10 tells us all about Noah building the ark, gathering the animals, and waiting out the flood. Yet, how many of the people Noah left behind where his friends? Noah's father Lamech dies just before the flood, but Noah's grandfather Methuselah likely died in the flood. Methuselah has Lamech when he is 187 years old and Lamech has Noah at the age of 182, thus Methuselah is 369 years old when Noah is born. The flood comes when Noah is 600 years old, and Methuselah dies at 969 years old. Since 969-369 is exactly 600, Methuselah either died during the flood or just before the flood began. Regardless, Noah's neighbors would have ostracized him and wrote him off as crazy for building a massive boat in the desert. Also, since Noah was righteous and man was so sinful God had to destroy the world with a flood, it is unlikely Noah was welcome in society. Even though Noah ultimately survives the flood, the psychological ramifications of being the only family to survive, as well as, the pressure to complete the boat on time were probably exceedingly high.
Job was another favored by God; he was greatly blessed with a large supply of livestock, a large family, and wealth. To prove a point to the devil (and possibly to us, as well), God allowed the devil to take everything from Job, including his health. Does this sound prosperous? Naturally God rewarded Job in the end when he did not succumb to Satan's attempt, but do you think Job experienced no stress, pain, or even slight depression?
Moses is chosen by God, though he does a lot to anger God during his time on Earth. We talk about Moses' great victory and how he was able to communicate with God, but what about the fear of Pharaoh killing him on the spot? What about the guilt of killing one of Pharaoh's men? The guilt of watching the Hebrews suffer for so long? What about fighting through all the Israelites fought through only to end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and never getting to enter the promised land? Do you think that Moses was never stressed? He was responsible for all of the Israelites, and not just their physical well-being on the journey he incited, but their spiritual well-being with the God he introduced them to. Moses' life during those 40 years was likely not rainbows and unicorns.
Many ignore the Old Testament, something I would advise against, but in an effort to provoke their curiosity as well (and to be balanced), I'm going to talk about some of the New Testament men who followed Jesus. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, committed suicide. James is executed by Herod. John is exiled to Patmos and Paul is thrown is jail. Based upon non-Biblical texts, similar fates are thought to have befallen the other disciples as well.
Because we have faith, we should never get so low as to commit suicide, but that doesn't mean there won't be periods of adversary we must strive through. Our modern society allows us to develop habits that upon receiving Christ and trying to abandon sin, we likely will feel some level of stress, strain, and perhaps even depression. For example, when I began only eating Kosher food (food that meets the dietary restrictions given by God), I found myself unable to eat at many of my usual restaurants, at odds with family who didn't understand why I wouldn't eat their cooking, and having to put more thought into food than I ever have before. This didn't make me depressed, but it definitely put a heavy amount of strain on me the first week or so (and during the holidays, since I couldn't find Kosher food at my parents' house). Now, I know God didn't sanction Christmas, but to argue that because it causes stress and strain it is automatically ungodly is a bit of a stretch.
Just to clarify, my goal with this post was to highlight two points:
- God’s people can and do suffer, and thus can experience depression.
- It is not accurate to say Christmas causes depression and therefore Christmas is not of God—it’s a faulty argument.
Other Posts in this Series
- Curtis, Ken. "Everything you need to know: December solstice 2015". Christianity.com. 2016
- "When and how did the Twelve Apostles die?". Amazing Bible Timeline with World History. 2013
- Kiger, Patrick J. "How Did the Apostles Die?". National Geographic Channel. February 2015
- Wein, Harrison et al. "Beat the Winter Blues: Shedding Light on Seasonal Sadness". News In Health. National Institutes of Health . January 2013
- Carley, Simon. "Suicide at Christmas". Emergency Medicine Journal 2004;21:716-717 doi:10.1136/emj.2004.019703
- Burton, Neel. "Is Suicide More Common at Christmas Time?: The Seven Greatest Myths About Suicide". Psychology Today. December 2012
- "11 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Depression Triggers". Health.com. 2015
- Mann, Denise. "Emotional Survival Guide for the Holidays". WebMD. 2016