Season and suicide: facts and myths
Since the first studies of suicide were carried out in the late 19th century, one finding has been remarkably robust: suicide rates vary according to season, reaching a peak and then a minimum, in a relatively stable pattern year after year.
During which season – winter, autumn, summer, or spring – do you reckon, do the most suicides occur? And what season has the least suicides?
If you guessed that the incidence of suicide is highest in late autumn, or early winter, you'd be quite wrong. Internationally, suicides peak in late spring and early summer, and reaches the lowest rate in late winter.
Exactly why there is a seasonal distribution of suicides is still unknown, and it's also a mystery why the actual distribution seems so counter-intuitive.
Many solutions have been proposed, appealing to biological, climatic, environmental, intrapersonal, psychological and societal factors (or combinations of these). No convincing explanation, however, has been found.
Intruigingly, suicide seasonality seems to be strongly diminishing over the past few decades in some, but not all, countries.
The actual month of suicide peaks and troughs is shifted by half a year in the opposite hemisphere; thus no matter which hemisphere you live in, suicide rates track the local season. It's interesting to ponder on the distribution for countries near the equator.
A study published last year, carried out at the University of Vienna, used suicide data from Statistics Austria for the period 1970 to 1999. In this interval, 55,009 suicides were officially registered. The researchers tested a sample of 1,093 medical and psychology students and found an almost perfectly reversed pattern of beliefs about suicide seasonality compared with the actual seasonal distribution. The belief patterns were not moderated by sex, age, course studied, or the number of years of study.
nothing more to see. please move along.