A hot planet in 2050 could spark tens of thousands of more suicides, a new study suggests.
The findings, which were recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found rising temperatures were linked to suicide spikes in countries like the U.S. and Mexico.
“Hotter temperatures are clearly not the only, nor the most important, risk factor for suicide,” said lead author Marshall Burke, an economist at Stanford University in a statement. “But our findings suggest that warming can have a surprisingly large impact on suicide risk, and this matters for both our understanding of mental health as well as for what we should expect as temperatures continue to warm.”
To determine the link, researchers looked at decades worth of temperature data against suicide rates in the U.S. and cities in Mexico going back to 1960. Their data confirmed hotter weather was linked to an increase in deaths by suicide.
The study found a 1 C increase in the weather resulted in a 0.7 per cent increase suicide rate in the U.S., and 2.1 per cent increase in Mexico. Researchers added if global warming was not capped by 2050, we could see 21,000 more suicides in these two countries.
“When talking about climate change, it’s often easy to think in abstractions,” Burke continued. “But the thousands of additional suicides that are likely to occur as a result of unmitigated climate change are not just a number, they represent tragic losses for families across the country.”
But authors also note this does not mean hot weather triggers suicides.
“Instead, they point out that temperature and climate may increase the risk of suicide by affecting the likelihood that an individual situation leads to an attempt at self-harm,” a statement concluded. “Hotter temperatures are clearly not the only, nor the most important, risk factor for suicide,” Burke explained.
Speaking with Global News, Mara Grunau, executive director at the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP), says researchers are still unsure why warmer weather may be a risk factor.
Economic downturn is a factor, she says. For every one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, “we have a 0.79 per cent increase in suicide in the Western world,” she says.
She adds, while this study gives researchers perspective, it doesn’t mean a hot day can lead to someone’s suicide the next day. Suicide is often the result of several risk factors, she adds, it’s rarely one big thing.
In the U.S., 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016, making it one of the leading causes of death in the country. In 2015, 3,269 Canadian men and 1,136 women lost their lives to suicide, and Statistics Canada shows men were more likely to die by suicide than women.
“Based on the average annual rate of increase in the age-standardized mortality rates over the period 2000 to 2015 (or any shorter period ending in 2015), then yes, the suicides are increasing at a greater rate among women than among men,” Statistics Canada told Global News in June.
Although there hasn’t been much research linking the two, a previous report from the U.K. in 2017 found when average daily temperatures exceeded 18 C, for example, there was a rise in a number of suicides in England and Wales, the Guardian reports.
Another report from Australia in 2014 found that sudden spikes in average temperatures could increase the risk factor of suicide in some cities, The Conversation reports, while another study from Brandeis University in Massachusetts found that hot weather, in general, had been linked to increased instances of aggression, violence and suicide.
Mental health in the summer
Of course, anyone who may be suffering from suicidal thoughts or has a history of self-harm should talk to a family member or doctor throughout the year.
Grunau says for anyone living with a mental health disorder, track how you are feeling during warmer months.
“Anyone who feels blah or blue and it’s persistent, … it’s time to seek out for help,” she continues. “If you are not sleeping, lack energy and you can’t identify why, seek help.”
She notes the Crisis Services Canada crisis hotline (1-833-456-4566) is available to Canadians across the country, but speaking to a counsellor or family doctor is another step people should take.
“If you are concerned about somebody, you can call a crisis line and encourage someone to get help as well,” she continues. “It’s a myth that most people die by suicide during Christmas or the holidays season. There is no evidence to suggest that. … This can happen all year. If you see someone not themselves in the summer, take it seriously.”
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
— With files from Reuters, Maham Abedi