“An increase in sunlight appears to be the culprit!”
Suicide attempts on average increase by 27% (Bridges, et al.) between the months of March and May. Suicide attempts are lowest between November and January. There appears to be no gender differences in the data. This is contrary to popular believe that suicide rates should increase between late autumn and early winter months due to decreasing light.
Seasonal Variations in Mood
It is common for individuals to report noticeable decreases in mood during the late autumn into the early winter months. In general, mild changes in mood during the winter months is the result of a common neurological effect from decreased Serotonin from the Pineal Gland.
If this change in mood is severe enough, a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be warranted. SAD affects approximately 1-2% of the general population. Individuals with this presentation may require medication combined with light therapy.
Suicide attempts resulting form decreased light is very rare and poorly documented in the literature. However, this is not the case for suicide attempts related to increased light.
Anecdotal Observations in Seasonal Suicide Patterns
When discussing suicide rates throughout the year, mental health professionals (nurses, counsellors, psychologists, and psychiatrists) report that spring sees the highest incidents. Spring is also the time of year when hypomania and manic episodes result in increased acute hospitalizations.
Sunlight has a significant impact on clinical presentations in mental health. When looking at seasonal patterns in mood, we assume that a decrease in light is the culprit. The data indicates otherwise.
Sunshine Increases Suicide Attempt Rates
The following three studies highlight the connection between increased sunlight and suicide attempts. While the exact organic cause is not fully understood, data trends support a convincing link.
Study 1: Seasonality of Suicidal Behavior – Woo, et al. – International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Woo fond that seasonal variation of suicide rates were associated with environmental determinants, including physical, chemical and biological factors. Demographics including age, gender, month of birth and socio-economic factors were considered. A clear pattern emerged showing increased suicides during the spring, especially for those with previously diagnosed mood disorders.
Study 2: Analysis of Seasonal Pattern in Suicide – Partonen, et al. – Journal of Affective Disorders
Partonen found using a seasonal-trend decomposition procedure, that a strong seasonal effect on suicide was greatest in the spring. High levels of solar radiation activity were associated with a higher risk of suicide. Moreover, the relationship to geomagnetic activity was weak.
Study 3: Effects of Sunshine on Suicide Rates – Vyssoki, et al. – Comprehensive Psychiatry
Knowing that peaks in suicide are often described for the spring in epidemiological studies, Vyssoki focused on the number of sunshine hours per month on suicide rates. In particular, Vyssoki was interested in violent vs. non-violent methods of death. Findings indicate an increase number of sunshine hours was associated with violent suicide attempts. It is hypothesized that impulsivity increases with increased light exposure.
Treatment for Depression as Prevention
It is critical that individuals be connected with a mental health professional when experiencing depressed mood, regardless of the time of year. Finding My Psych promotes a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to care.
If you want a comprehensive list of treatment approaches, check out, “25 Easy To Follow Tips for Battling Clinical Depression (Comprehensive)“.