by William Skink
I associate spring with death. While there are personal reasons for this, there are also quantitative reasons that scientists still can’t quite figure out, and it has to do with suicide (May, 2005):
Psychiatrists have been scratching their chins over this one for years. Counterintuitively, the arrival of spring and the long sunny days it ushers in, mark a staggering rise in suicide rates.
This week, mental health experts at the Priory group said that May is the peak month for suicides in Britain. “The increase can be dramatic, with up to 50% more successful suicides in some cases,” says Chris Thompson, director of healthcare at the Priory group. In Britain, about 6,300 people take their own lives each year, 90% of whom are likely to have mental health problems.
The seasonal effect is seen all over the world, with the northern hemisphere witnessing a big rise in suicides in May and June and the southern hemisphere seeing a similar rise in November. While no one has a complete explanation as to why, the leading theory is that the increase is down to the effects of sunlight on our hormones.
According to Thompson, the seasonal changes that bring most of us out of winter apathy may work against those who are coming out of severe depression. “It is a harsh irony that the partial remission which most depression sufferers experience in the spring often provides the boost of energy required for executing a suicide plan,” he says. “Spring is a time for new beginnings and new life, yet the juxtaposition between a literally blooming world and the barren inner life of the clinically depressed is often too much for them to bear.”
This topic comes to mind after reading reports that one of the three UM student deaths over the weekend was an apparent suicide.
In 2013, the Governor appointed 6 members of the state’s first suicide review team. There are of course warning signs and strategies of prevention to implement and a National Suicide Prevention Hotline, but is it working? Hardly. And it’s not just the seasons, there may also be generational trends:
Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.
Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.
If you know a friend or family member struggling, say something. Suicide prevention is possible. This story of a would-be-jumper off the Golden Gate bridge is a powerful reminder of what human connection can do.