A common myth is that the colder winter months are the times when suicide rates are at its peak. Although the dark and dreary weather does pose a mental health challenge for those who struggle with illnesses like Season Affective Disorder, this does not correlate to the numbers of lives lost around the globe to self-inflicted death. The truth is, research points these trends to a much brighter time of year, spring time.
In one study of 28 countries, researchers found that, overall, suicide deaths were lowest in winter, highest in spring and reached a peak in May in the Northern Hemisphere. Researchers also found that the peak existed only in places with distinct seasonal changes in weather. The link was strongest in agricultural societies and weakest in urban areas.
No one can say with 100% certainty why this trend occurs. There are theories that it may have something to do with the way sunlight impacts the chemicals in our brain, giving someone more energy to act on thoughts of self-harm; an expression that someone struggling with mental illness may have previously been too depressed and lethargic to act on.
Another theory is that those who are already struggling with mental illness, and who may have smaller social networks, may feel particularly isolated during this time – a time when there is a lot of social activity going on like high school prom, weddings, travel plans and other seasonal events.
However, the truth of the matter is, 90-98% of all suicides are a result of a mental illness; much of the time, untreated or poorly treated. In addition, suicides can, and do, happen at all times of the year.
So, why is this seasonal pattern important? For one, it is incredibly vital to break the myth that good weather will cause those around us who are struggling to “snap out of it”. Second, to raise the awareness that, contrary to popular belief, this can be an especially vulnerable time of year for those around us who have mental illness.
The bottom line is, if you notice someone showing signs of depression, don’t wait. Say something. And, if you’re having trouble finding the right words, use this script:
“Is everything okay? I’ve noticed you have been….”
State the behavior that is concerning to you.
“I’m concerned. This isn’t typical for you.”
Let them know that help is available, help is effective and that they deserve to feel better.
How can I help?
“What can I do to help? Let’s come up with a plan together.”
The most important step is taking action or making some sort of follow up plan.
For more information on what you can do to help support a friend or loved one, visit our website.