The suicide rates increase as we turn to the warmer months. They amp up in April and reach their peak in May and June. May is a peak month as schools ready to dismiss for the summer months and parents prepare for a different non-academic manner of relating. Warmer months encourage awareness of economic woes.The APA (American Psychological Association) noted that the suicide rates (per the CDC 1928-2007) for the age group from 24-65 rose and fell due to economic conditions. On average the suicide and homicide rates increase with the advent of spring. This is contrary to a popular belief that suicide is higher during the dark and cold winter months. This has never been the case.
Just why does the seasonal change act to increase suicide?
This has plagued scientists for some time. In the winter months many people suffer from severe depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and problems with maintaining balance due to severe weather, increase in costs of heating a home, and job lay-offs that often take place prior to the holiday season. People hang on with depression, anxiety, fear, and a host of other mental health concerns throughout the winter months.
When spring emerges and the weather warms there is an increase in energy. You have heard of how people who end their lives by suicide have an improvement in mood days or weeks before the actual attempt? Seasonal suicide rates are believed to operate on the same principle.
It takes energy to end a life. It takes momentum and a plan to decide on the how, when, where, and what of a suicide. People in the throes of depression do not have energy to plan and execute a suicide plan. Very often people mistake the mood improvement following a severe depression with the individual’s mental health improvement. Friends and family hope that their loved one is finally getting better. They notice more energy, smiles, follow through on projects, and an overall improvement in mood.
Sometimes a person is getting better, but many times the increase in mood is due to finally having the energy to plan and follow through with a suicide. This is why we want to watch our loved ones closely.
Some studies suggest that with spring comes an increase in serotonin levels. This is our built-in “feel good” chemical that provides for a sense of well-being and energy. Serotonin peaks can create energy and this energy might also be aggressive energy. Have you ever noticed in urban areas how the street gangs and hustlers start hanging out at the end of the block the soon as the weather begins to improve? They shout, they stay up late, they drink too much, and rowdy becomes an understated description for the fear they can instill in the neighbors on the block.
Still other studies ponder melatonin as a partial culprit. With an increase in sunlight melatonin levels in the body are decreased. We can stay up later and get up earlier in the warm months whereas in the dark winter months many people are prepared to go to bed much earlier. Melatonin does affect our behavior and mood.
Another explanation has been offered by physicians who have studied the effects of allergens on mood and on the chemical balance within the body. With spring comes flowers blooming, grasses pollinating, and trees emitting yellow dust (pollen) with each gust of wind. Life is reproducing itself. And these life producing chemicals from our plant friends cause many to have moderate to severe allergies. Allergies influence mood and behavior as well.
All together it is good to dismiss the myth that suicides are the highest with the holiday season. This has never been the case. We are entering the peak time for suicides.
Some facts to keep in mind:
Men are more likely to end their life by suicide. Women make more attempts, but men tend to succeed on their first attempt.
A prior suicide attempt
A completed suicide by a family member, close relative, or friend
Family history of child abuse
History of a mental illness, especially depression
History of a substance abuse or dependence problem
Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
Loss and Grief Issues
Limited access to mental health or health resources
Access to medical and mental health services
Family and community support
Skills in conflict resolution, problem-solving, and working things out in non-violent ways
Remember that there are many things each of us can do to help one another. Apathy is the worst position to take. A life is not replaceable.
Susan Sontag said, “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question is what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing “we” can do–but who is that ‘we”?–and nothing “they” can do either–and who are “they”?–then one stars to get bored, cynical, apathetic.”
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2013). Suicide Weather. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 25, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/angst-anxiety/2013/04/suicide-weather/