Suicide rates are highest in spring -- not around Christmas

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I lived for a year in the Nortwest, and a friend told me it’s not the gloomy winter that provokes suicide; as he put it, “it’s when the sky turns blue that the guns come out.” There are a few beautiful days in the spring when, it seems, people realize the weather isn’t causing their misery.


There could also be some contribution from the fact that suicide is a bit nontrivial; so peak mortality is probably among people who are a few steps up from the bottom(with improved weather being one possibility, if seasonal affective disorder is in play).

As I tell shrinks when they start on the "Let me ask fretful questions about suicidal ideation…’ track, “Doc, if I were feeling up to the task of executing a suicide plan; that would indicate a level of self efficacy and executive function higher than I’ve had in about a decade; I should be so lucky.” This has the virtue of shutting them up; but it isn’t false. Numb misery, while unpleasant, is ‘easy’, in the sense that it just happens to you. Suicide requires getting a plan together and pulling it off. Takes effort, planning, willingness to risk social disapprobation, gaining access to appropriate hardware, etc.


Clearly you don’t already have a gun handy, thank goodness.


What catches my eye is that in the second graph (Average Daily Suicide Rate per Month, 1999-2010), the rate has increased more than 30%. Maybe that’s old news?


[Everyone with severe major depressive disorder]: Well, yeah.

The reason why suicides are so high in March and April is that (1) the cumulative weight of winter has taken its maximum toll, and— this is really critical — (2) the improved weather has an activating effect such that those depressed now feel more energy. This is not a good thing. It’s one thing to have a plan to kill yourself, it’s quite another to finally have the energy and initiative to do it.


This is absolutely the case.

People can be too depressed to do anything including commit suicide. Ironically, when they start to feel better they feel they actually have the ability to carry through with it. We had a beloved weatherman take own life a few years ago and he did it during one of his “up” times.

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It looks like they’re not controlling for population growth, so that could be the reason for the general increase over time. Of course, this would be a lot clearer if people would label their axes properly.

There is a nasty period of time there- when the energy levels have picked up just a bit, and the thought of having to go through another round of low (at some unknown time in the future)… it’s not a good thing.

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I used to volunteer at my local distress line for the overnight Christmas Eve to Christmas Day shift*. It was actually very pleasant. People who call in every day to discuss their problems call in a good mood and tell you about how nice their day was. Most depressed people are still part of the same culture as the rest of us, and (inexplicably, if you ask me) most people seem to be in a better mood in December. This data certainly lines up with my experiences.

* Lest you think I’m a saint, I did this as a immune-to-argument excuse to avoid going home for Christmas


Right, duh!
I just spent 20 mins on a CDC site looking for the original data to verify that and never actually found it. But a 1997 report does have 2,430 national suicides in October, which would give an average daily rate of 77.5, in the range of plausibility with TFA’s graph.
Makes one wonder, are there just more people in the US in those months that seem to have a higher rate?


It’s why competent shrinks are supposed to monitor severely depressed patients very closely when they start them on antidepressants, because if the antidepressants work it’s quite common that they may start by gaining the energy to make a suicide attempt.

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