Objective: The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between suicide attempts and major public holidays in Europe.
Method: The analysis was based on data on 24 388 suicide attempts by persons aged 15 years or older in the period 1989-1996. Data from 13 centres (representing 11 countries) participating in the WHO/EURO Multicentre Study on Parasuicide were analysed. The analysis of the fluctuation of suicide attempts around public holidays was based on the daily number of suicide attempts for each centre. For each day in the period under examination a mean number of suicide attempts (mu) was calculated. The analysis was based on the assumption that the data followed a Poisson distribution. The observed number of daily suicide attempts was compared with the expected number of attempts. A multiplicative model for the expected number in each centre was developed.
Results: Before Christmas there were fewer suicide attempts than expected, and after Christmas there were approximately 40% more attempts than expected. In addition, more attempts than expected were registered on New Year's Day. In countries where people have the day off work on Whit Monday there were significantly fewer attempts during the 3 days before, but where Whit Monday is a normal working day significantly fewer attempts occurred on the Monday to Wednesday after Whit Sunday.
Conclusion: There appears to be a transposition of a significant number of suicide attempts from before (and during) a major public holiday until after it. The division of holidays into non-working and working days showed that a 'holiday effect' could only be found around major public holidays, particularly Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. These findings support the theory of the 'broken-promise effect' for major public holidays.