According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center, despite common views, most suicides do not occur in the winter. This has been a long held belief and even clinicians will offer evidence of this from their own practices. I, along with my colleagues, have typically noticed an increase in my caseload during the winter months but this fact alone should lead us to believe that suicide rates would drop because people are actually seeking help.
It was in the 1820s that medical professionals noticed that it was in fact during the late spring that suicide rates peaked. There were a number of theories put forth as to why springtime, usually considered a time of renewal, would inspire suicidal behavior in people. While there is no universally agreed upon reason for this phenomenon, there is some evidence to suggest that the causes may have to do with how people interact with each other during these months.
During the colder winter months, people tend to slow down and stay inside more. They have fewer interactions with others and are generally under less stress at work. As the temperature warms up people begin to mingle more and productivity in many areas pick up, which increases stress for workers. Researchers determined this by looking at farm and factory workers for which this scenario is common.
There has even been speculation that sunshine can trigger suicidal thoughts based on the notion that those who suffer depression are simply too weak or drained during the winter months and that they have more energy to carry out a suicide plan in the warmer months.
Allergies and other health issues intensify during the spring months and doctors have reported that certain allergens can trigger the release of anxiety producing chemicals. Even pollen count and pollution levels have been connected to suicide rates.
All of these theories are based upon many years of looking at data from different countries, climates, types of jobs and other variables and then correlating those factors with spikes in suicide rates. It may seem intuitive to think that the Holidays are a time when people who are alone feel particularly despondent and are therefore more likely to commit suicide but this just isn’t the case. This doesn’t mean that rates of depression don’t rise during the winter months. The weather, along with Holiday stress, can definitely contribute to the increase in mood disorders at this time.
For those who struggle with depression it is critical that you reach out for help. This may mean seeking counseling or accessing your available support systems. Even letting your primary care physician know how you are feeling can start the process of getting you the help you need. It may not be easy, and in fact it is likely to be quite difficult, but the key is to speak up and let someone know about what you are going through.
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