Spring has sprung. The days are longer, the trees fuller, and the flowers are in full bloom. While spring may be a warm welcome after a cold and dark winter, for some it can be a time of increased depression and anxiety. Though it may seem counterintuitive as the gloomy weather gives way to brighter and longer days, many studies, some dating to the late 1800s, have shown that suicide rates are highest in the spring.
An estimated 700 Americans lose their lives to suicide each week. But in May and June, the number rises to nearly 800, and this isn’t just an American phenomenon. A 1995 study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine revealed the same trend of increased spring suicides in 25 of 28 countries surveyed in the Northern hemisphere. Similar findings exist for the Southern hemisphere, where suicide rates also peak in the spring (September and October) in countries such as South Africa.
Why Does Suicide Increase in the Spring?
This phenomenon has puzzled researchers for more than a century. However, many clues have been found and hypotheses theorized.
One theory suggests that individuals struggling with depression in the winter may suddenly have more energy and motivation in the spring to take action on their suicidal thoughts. Another theory proposes that people experiencing depression may sink further into despair when the emotional relief they expected after winter doesn’t arrive.
From a social standpoint, it may be that those who are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behavior have more difficulties in warmer seasons when social interaction increases. They may feel greater isolation and withdraw while others become more socially engaged.
Other researchers believe that inflammation may be to blame, as allergies to pollen and other springtime irritants cause increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been linked to increased rates of depression as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In fact, some scientists have found a correlation between higher suicide rates, depression, and the amount of tree pollen in the air.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Even if researchers are never able to pinpoint an exact cause, suicide in the spring is a very real problem. However, if the warning signs are noticed early and action is taken, suicide can sometimes be prevented. According to clinical psychologists, as many as 80% of people who attempt suicide exhibit their intention in some way, be it through behavior or words, but it can take an attentive observer to notice the sometimes subtle warning signs, including:
- Talking about death or wanting to die. Comments such as “You’d be better off without me” and “I wish I were dead” should always be taken seriously, even if made in passing.
- Isolation and withdrawal from social activities
- Decreased interest in hobbies and passions
- References to hopelessness
- Depression, anxiety, and/or recklessness
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Sleep changes (insomnia or excessive sleep)
- Extreme mood swings and/or outbursts of rage
- Expressing feelings of being trapped, victimized, rejected, or being a burden to others
- Researching methods of suicide
- Talking about a specific suicide plan
How Can I Help Prevent Suicide?
If you know someone who appears to be suicidal, you can help. Here’s what suicide prevention experts suggest:
- Take all signs of suicide seriously.
- Do not argue with the person or dismiss how he or she feels. Simply show that you care and are there to help.
- Be gentle when stating your concerns.
- Ask if the person has a plan and a method. If the person does, do not leave him or her alone and do your best to remove weapons or objects that could be used.
- Ask if the person is seeing a medical professional or taking medication. If the person is seeing a doctor and/or therapist, ask if you can contact the professional on the person’s behalf.
Where You Can Turn for Help
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, do not wait to seek help. There are many resources available to you, including:
- Suicide Prevention Hotline in the United States: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
- stopsuicide.org offers detailed information on warning signs to help prevent suicide.
- thetrevorproject.org provides life-affirming programs to members of the LGBT youth community at risk of suicide
- suicidepreventionlifeline.org provides online chat and phone call support from a suicide counselor
- For international support, visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) website
If there is an immediate emergency, contact 911 or the emergency service in your area.
Develop a Self-Care Plan to Offset Seasonal Changes
Seasonal changes have a profound effect on most forms of life. From biological drives to increased aggressiveness to hibernation, we are all irrefutably tied to the changing of the seasons in some way. As this process occurs throughout the year, it’s a good reminder to all of us to practice a little self-care to help offset some of the changing of the seasons. This can mean many different things, like making sure you get a little extra exercise, eating right, or taking 15 minutes to meditate before bed. The point is that in all the chaos and confusion of everyday life, it’s important to make sure you are taking care of yourself.
If you’re at a point in life where you feel like you may need help with self-care or other feelings you can’t seem to shake, consider finding a therapist or counselor with whom you can form a therapeutic relationship. A therapist or counselor can help you create a good self-care plan, help you examine some of the feelings you’re having in a safe space, and help you develop positive coping strategies should you need to use them.
- Alpert, J. (June 23, 2014). The dark side of spring: Suicide. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-alpert/the-dark-side-of-spring-s_b_5178387.html
- Aschwanden, C. (April 7, 2014). Understanding suicide, which is surprisingly common in the spring. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/understanding-suicide-which-is-surprisingly-common-in-spring/2014/04/07/b31363cc-b91a-11e3-899e-bb708e3539dd_story.html
- Dobbs, D. (June 24, 2013). Clues in the cycle of suicide. Well blogs: New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/clues-in-the-cycle-of-suicide/?_r=0
- Hauser, A. (March 25, 2014). The connection between spring and suicide. The Weather Channel. Retrieved from http://www.weather.com/health/news/connection-between-spring-and-suicide-20140324
- Pappas, S. (March 24, 2014). Springtime suicide peak still puzzles scientists. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/44290-suicides-peak-spring.html
- Pappas, S. (March 24, 2014). Suicide: Red flags and warning signs. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/44289-suicide-red-flags-warning-signs.html
- Suicide Facts. Save: Suicide awareness voices of education. Retrieved from http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=705D5DF4-055B-F1EC-3F66462866FCB4E6
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