USA: A recent study published in Translational Psychiatry shed light on the time of year and time when people have the strongest suicidal thoughts.
The research identified the month when people have the strongest suicidal thoughts and that these thoughts occur a few months before the peak of suicidal behavior in the spring/early summer. It also showed that the daily peak of suicidal thoughts is between 4 and 5 am.
The researchers, Brian O’Shea and René Freichel, show that suicidal thoughts are indeed higher in winter (December) and have developed a conceptual model of why suicidal behavior takes a few months to reach a ‘tipping point’ . They also found that 4am to 6am is when people are likely to be most vulnerable to taking their own lives. Additionally, they found an overall increase in negative self-harm cognitions over the six years of the study.
Most people assume that suicide rates will be higher in the winter, but spring/early summer is when suicidal behaviors peak and this finding has baffled researchers since it was first identified.
Research from the University of Nottingham School of Psychology, conducted in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam and Harvard University, examined the seasonal pathways of suicidal thoughts and identified when suicidal thoughts peak during the year and also at what time of year. day these thoughts are the worst.
Over a six-year period, responses were collected from over 10,000 people in the UK, US and Canada who completed questionnaires and tasks about their moods, thoughts and ideas about suicide and self-harm using the Project’s Implicit Health Database ( PIH).
The Doctor. Brian O’Shea from the University of Nottingham led the study and explains: “It is well documented that winter is a time when people with mental health issues can struggle with worsening mood and depression. the change of seasons that affects many people’s mental health. So it may come as a surprise that spring, a time when you’d assume people’s moods improve, is actually the time of year when people are most at risk of taking their own lives. The reasons for this are complex, but our research shows that suicidal thoughts and mood are worst in December and best in June. Between these two points there is an elevated risk of suicidal behavior, and we feel this is because the gradual improvements in their mood and energy can allow them to plan and engage in a suicide attempt. The relative comparison between self and others’ moods improving at a perceived higher rate are complementary possibilities that need further testing.”
Online tasks were designed to examine the temporal dynamics of explicit and implicit self-harm cognitions, with explicit cognition examined through direct questions about mood, suicide, and self-harm using a standard 1-to-5 scale. of reaction time in which people were asked to rank words related to themselves in real time with death and life words.
Sample respondents belonged to three groups: (1) previous suicide attempts; (2) suicidal ideation and non-suicidal self-harm; (3) no previous self-harm, suicidal thoughts or behavior). The researchers found an overall increase in negative self-harm cognitions over the six years and seasonality effects for mood and desire to die, particularly among those who had already made a suicide attempt.
The results show a latency between the peak of explicit and implicit suicide cognition in winter and the peak of suicide attempts and suicide deaths in spring. Explicit cognition of suicide, which peaks in December, preceded implicit associations with self-harm, which peak in February. Both peaks precede the spring/early summer peak of suicidal behavior. Similar lagged effects were seen at 24 hours, with explicit suicidal cognition and mood peaking at 4-5 am and implicit cognition delayed at this peak.
The Doctor. O’Shea adds, “This study is the first to look at time trends around mood and thoughts of self-harm on such a large scale, and really pinpoints the times when intervention can be most beneficial.”
Freichel, R., O’Shea, BA Suicidality and mood: the impact of trends, seasons, day of week, and time of day on explicit and implicit cognitions among a sample of the online community. Transl Psychiatry 13, 157 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-023-02434-1.