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November blues

Naomi Conrad / kbmNovember 15, 2012

In Germany, November is traditionally a time to mourn and remember those who have passed away. Contrary to popular belief, however, the most suicides occur in the spring.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

When the days grow cold and dark, Irina Suchan keeps depression at bay with coffee and hot chocolate. Sometimes she lights candles, too.

"Our residents need something for the soul," she says. Suchan is head of social services at a home for senior citizens in Bonn. When bad weather keeps the residents stuck indoors, many of them start to get "pretty irritable."

In Germany, November is a month of mourning. The days darken and the church calendar draws to an end. In different religious circles, days in November are set aside to remember those who have passed away - the Protestant Church recognizes a Sunday in commemoration of the dead and Catholics observe All Saints' Day, for example, on November 1. And two Sundays before Advent, victims of tyranny and war are remembered with a state holiday.

"November is a time for remembrance and penance," Reinhard Mawick, press spokesman for the Protestant Church in Germany, told DW. It's a myth, however, that more deaths and suicides occur in February than in other months.

More suicides in spring

A hand holding the hand of an elderly person
The thought of being forgotten is difficult to bearImage: picture-alliance/dpa

At the seniors' home in Bonn, 20 to 30 residents pass away each year, and the numbers don't peak in November. "People leave us all year," said Suchan.

According to Germany's statistics office, 854 people in Germany committed suicide in November 2010. However, the month with the highest suicide rate that year - 957 - was March.

"In the winter, my patients are totally hopeless and in despair, but they lack the drive," explained René Hurlemann, professor and psychiatrist at the University Clinic in Bonn. He added that there is a strong correlation between light and emotional drive - and, at least in Germany, the light doesn't come back until the spring months. In some cases, the rebirth of nature can exacerbate people's feelings of hopelessness and sadness.

Grief takes its course

For Fritz Kirchmaier, grief is part of his profession. As press spokesman for the German Association for the Preservation of War Graves, he takes part in at least four funeral services on the national memorial day in late November.

Kirchmaier observes that, more than 60 years after World War II, the sadness has gone, but the memories remain. "That's understandable, because people aren't as strongly affected," he told DW. "Many of the spouses of fallen soldiers are no longer alive."

Funeral wreaths with German colors
An official memorial day is observed in late NovemberImage: picture-alliance/dpa

On memorial day, which has been observed since the beginning of the 20th century, not only the casualties of the World Wars are remembered. "The mourning has taken on a new quality," said Kirchmaier, mentioning the graves of soldiers who have more recently fallen in Afghanistan, for example.

The service of German soldiers is often not sufficiently honored, says Kirchmaier, which is why he finds an official month of mourning important to remember all victims.

Don't forget

At the seniors' home in Bonn, memory and commemoration are important all year round. "It's essential that people don't just disappear," said Suchan, especially for the residents who don't have any family members.

And the fear of being forgotten can't be assuaged with a hot chocolate and candles.