Higher rates of suicide in the Summertime. Why?
I wrote a little fact on my FB page this morning that really deserved more attention. It’s something I’ve known for a while but didn’t actually realise it wasn’t something that was well known. This piece is a little more factual that anything I normally write but I do believe it is extremely important. Just like any other illness the more we know, the more we can help. And, when it comes to mental illness you don’t have to be a scientist working in a lab to make a real difference. Isn’t that such a positive thought to make note of? We don’t need billions of dollars and research to make a difference in the suicide rates. We just need to know enough to be able to make rationale decisions for those that can’t. if you need further advice on what to do if someone you know and love is suicidal, I do have a a free e-book on the subject here.
So what do we know? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finds that suicide rates have climbed dramatically since 1999. Forbes also had an atmospheric scientist contributes to their online magazine on weather and climate Interestingly enough there is scientific evidence that the weather and late Spring-Summer have statistically higher suicide rates acorss the world. Of course this is a general overview of the entire poplutaion of the globe and it can vary from culture to culture. But overall this is the pattern we’ve been seeing up until now.
To be clear, I am not stating that weather or seasonality is a dominant risk factor for suicide. It’s obviously a combination of things, individuals, relationships, community, and environmental issues all contribute to the risk of suicide.
However in 2014, a paper was published by scientists who examined weekly suicide death totals and anomalies across the States, the paper found that in cooler months there was a lower high-end suicide rate and higher in the hotter months.
The study, led by Dr. Grady Dixon at Ft. Hays State University, says in the abstract,
“These results are an important step toward clarifying the biopsychosocial mechanisms of suicidal behavior through a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between temperature and suicide.”
A 2017 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlighted increased suicide rates in India due to crop-damaging temperatures. A 2016 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found consistent positive associations between warmer temperatures and suicide in 3 East Asian countries, regardless of country, age and gender.
Duration of sunlight and seasonality:
This may seem counterintuitive because of the perceptions associated with the cold, winter months with less sunlight, and of course S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder). Annie Hauser, writing in Weather.com, writes:
“Spring is when severely depressed people are able to be motivated enough to take action and do something. In most people, depression creates overwhelming feelings of listlessness and disinterest, so the idea of putting together a plan to commit suicide is too difficult during the winter, when depression symptoms may be worse in some people, he (Dixon) said.”
The second I started reading this I thought, oh Spring makes people more motivated to plan to get better? When in fact, it’s the opposite; they plan to ‘solve’ the problem. And we know that suicide seems like an entirely rational way to deal with how difficult things are. It sort of makes sense to me now. Especially with the fact that our brains are naturally wired to focused on the negative, always looking for danger. It’s much harder for us to seek the solution that will be the hardest route. I’ve said it before but to recover from mental illness, addiction, self-harm or eating disorders takes work, lots and lots of work. Of course we’ll look for what we perceive is the easier, but also devastating option. Our brains are wired that way.
Another reason could be that people who know they struggle with seasonal winter depression are waiting for Summer because they believe the lighter months will make them feel better. When Spring breaks and Summer rolls round and they don’t feel better it could be a devastating catalyst.
This next theory is speculative but worth mentioning as it’s something that is being explored in a lot of modern day illnesses and that is inflammation. Dr. Adam Kaplin is a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University. He told the New York Times a few years ago that speculative research has linked inflammation with depression.
The business of busyness:
Some people also believe that the “busyness” of holidays (people hopping on planes, showing off their holidays on social media, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere) can actually leave people with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and hopelessness. Perhaps even with anxiety sufferers more sunshine equals more people out and about, more crowds, busier roads, and a lot of hustle and bustle.
So, as you can see there are some theories but nothing concrete. If nothing else this article is about being aware year round and don’t assume a thing when it comes to someone’s mental state, even when the sun is shining.
At the end of the day, it’s complex and it’s down to so many factors but I’ll never stop talking about it. I’ll never stop trying to help.