As the warm weather arrives, suicide risk increases: here’s what you should know

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By Julia D’Addurno, Registered Psychotherapist (qualifying)

The transition from winter to spring means longer days and warmer weather. The rise in temperature and the blooming flowers can signify rebirth and new beginnings, rejuvenation, and the increase in sunshine and vitamin D can make everything seem a lot better and brighter. As the weather begins to change, many people may be noticing a boost in their mood and energy, and they may even feel more positive and optimistic. Although we are still in a global pandemic, and this spring will likely look different, people are beginning to get outside and enjoy the nicer weather after a solitary winter. 

For many people, though, this added energy from the warm weather may indicate imminent risk for harm because the spring and summer months are also a time where suicide rates are at their peak.

Suicide is among one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

It is also one of the most preventable causes of death. There is not just one variable that is associated with suicidal behaviour, but a variety of factors that are known to put a person at higher risk.

Some of the ones commonly explored include: ​

  • Age and gender: Males have the highest suicide mortality rate. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among females aged 15- 24. Suicide rates are highest among middle-aged male and female adults aged 45 to 64 years.
  • Depression/current or history of mental illness
  • Exposure to suicide:  If someone has previously attempted suicide, has a family history of suicidal behaviour and/or has experienced a loss of someone who died by suicide, they are at a higher risk.
  • Substance use: those who regularly use substances like drugs or alcohol 
  • Interpersonal relationships and support: Those with low social support or lost social supports are at higher risk 
  • Comorbid medical conditions
  • Socioeconomic status 
  • Finally, a person who has an organized plan is at imminent risk. 
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Suicide prevention is a global public health priority

The goal of prevention is to:

  • normalize the conversation around suicide,
  • increase safety for people with suicidal thoughts,
  • support those who have been affected, 
  • reduce and become aware of the variables that contribute to suicide and increase risk such as the transition into spring and summer months.

A DEFINITIVE EXPLANATION for why suicide risk seems to increase in the warmer months is still unknown, but many studies have hypothesized possible explanations.One explanation comes from various studies on antidepressant-induced suicidality. These studies revealed that within the first few weeks of use, antidepressants will increase one’s energy before it takes full effect and improves their depressed mood state. In the first few weeks, suicidal individuals may still remain in a depressive state, but feel much more energized to act on suicidal ideations and carry out a plan. ​

Sunlight and the onset of summer, may have a similar effect. Typically, when someone is living with depression, they often feel low motivation and low energy. They may feel no desire to get out of bed or do anything, and the winter months can amplify this. When the weather gets nicer, someone who is struggling with depression could experience an increase in energy, but no reduction in their depressed mood, which can lead to increased motivation to carry out a suicide plan.

​Increased energy and motivation sound like a positive change, but if feelings of guilt and hopelessness persist, someone who is suicidal could be at higher risk and unfortunately many people around them can miss the signs because they see the person is in a more energized state and it seems like their mood is improving.

​Another possible explanation for this phenomenon is comparative suffering. Depression can be worse for most people in the winter, and there are more people experiencing seasonal depression, it is expected that when the weather starts to get warmer, everyone will begin to feel better. When the warm weather comes around and an individual who has been feeling depressed still feels extremely down, and sees that most people are feeling better, this can result in added shame, guilt and perceived burdensomeness that can contribute to further suicidal thoughts.

​Spring may be extra difficult and isolating for these individuals to see everyone around them happier while they still feel persisting sadness and hopelessness. Depression may also cloud their thinking making them think this is a fault of their own.

Another variable that has been explored to explain the spring suicide peak is seasonal allergies that could cause inflammation, which many studies suggest worsens depression and anxiety due to the effect it has on neurotransmitters and the brain.

​More research is needed, and the above explanations are all hypotheses, but they provide some insight for understanding depression and suicidal ideation.


Finally, something else that heightens risk and contributes to risk factors are the experience of adverse life events and trauma, including developmental trauma.

​The current pandemic and its associated stressors have been very difficult and, even traumatic, for many people.

Image of sad man, holding head facing a window

​Trauma, especially continuous and ongoing trauma, that goes untreated and unprocessed can significantly increase risk for suicide.

​Many people are struggling with their mental well-being as a result of this past year. While there has been an increase in distress,  there has also been an increase in people talking about their mental health and reaching out for support. 

Let’s continue to normalize the conversation around suicide and support those who are having a difficult time right now.

As mentioned, suicide risk can increase due to multiple factors. Even though these factors are not always predictive of a completed suicide, it’s still important to understand what puts a person at higher risk.

​Anyone can be affected by suicide, but anyone can also prevent it.

​When someone is thinking about suicide, we understand, it is less about wanting to die, and much more about stopping their pain; they can’t see any other way to do that.

It is so important to remember, and remind loved ones, there are people who can offer support, foster hope and help them realize that they are not alone.

Interested in a suicide intervention training?

An excellent program several of us at DALD have taken is LivingWorks ASIST, the world’s leading suicide intervention program. LivingWorks programs are available to anyone 13 and older, and requires no formal training or prior experience in suicide prevention. 

​There are many crisis lines that offer immediate support if you or someone you love is expressing suicidal intent. Please reach out for help or guidance to support yourself, or a loved one:

​Locally, Caledon Crisis Services:
Call – 24/7, 905-278-9036 OR 1-888-811-2222, in
Caledon & Dufferin.

Kids Help Phone call at 1-800-668-6868

Thinking of suicide?
Call 1-833-456-4566
(in QC: 1-866-277-3553)

Distress Centres of Greater Toronto
416-408-4357 

Visit Crisis Services Canada.

​Or attend your nearest hospital emergency room.


OTHER RESOURCES


If you prefer talking to a human to help find the right therapist for you,Call 

905-584-8963,or email 

admin@digalittledeeper.ca
You can expect a reply within 24-48 hours, Mon-Fri, during regular business hours.


References

Coimbra, D. G., Pereira e Silva, A. C., de Sousa-Rodrigues, C. F., Barbosa, F. T., de Siqueira Figueredo, D., Araújo Santos, J. L., … de Andrade, T. G. (2016). Do suicide attempts occur more frequently in the spring too? A systematic review and rhythmic analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 196, 125–137.doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.02.036 

Cho, C. H., & Lee, H. J. (2018). Why do mania and suicide occur most often in the spring? Psychiatry investigation15(3), 232–234. https://doi.org/10.30773/pi.2017.12.20

Crawford, A. (2021). Advancing public mental health in Canada through a national suicide prevention service: Setting an agenda for Canadian standards of excellenceCanadian Journal of Psychiatry. 1-5. DOI: 10.1177/0706743721989153 

Reeves, R. R., & Ladner, M. E. (2010). Antidepressant‐induced suicidality: An update. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics16(4), 227-234. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-5949.2010.00160.x

Seregi, B., Kapitány, B., Maróti-Agóts, Á., Rihmer, Z., Gonda, X., & Döme, P. (2017). Weak associations between the daily number of suicide cases and amount of daily sunlight. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 73, 41–48.doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2016.10.003

Varin, M., Orpana, H., Palladino, E., Pollock, N., & Baker, M. (2020).  Trends in suicide mortality in Canada by sex and age group, 1981-2017: A population-based time series analysisCanadian Journal of Psychiatry, 66(2), 170-178. DOI:10.1177/0706743720940565

Woo, J. M., Okusaga, O., & Postolache, T. T. (2012). Seasonality of suicidal behavior. International journal of environmental research and public health9(2), 531-547. doi:10.3390/ijerph9020531

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Picture of Julia D'Addurno, H.BA, MACP

Julia D'Addurno, H.BA, MACP

Registered Psychotherapist (qualifying) Julia is a Registered Psychotherapist (qualifying) with Dig A Little Deeper and also completed her graduate training with us.  Julia completed a double major undergraduate degree in Psychology and Creative Writing, before enrolling in her Masters program to become a Psychotherapist, and enjoys using her creative skills to bring mental health awareness & healing to her readers.

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