Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Sunlight and Suicide-Some Correlations Surprising

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Sunlight and Suicide-Some Correlations Surprising

Article excerpt

Ever since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, I have associated a bright, sunny day with disaster. I vividly remember what a beautiful morning that was--a crystal blue cloudless sky, low humidity, and a cool, comfortable temperature. Who could be unhappy on such a marvelous day?

On the other hand, my experience living in a northern climate taught me that winter was another story. Getting up in the dark to go to school or work was a miserable experience, followed by coming home in the dark and endless hours of biting cold and bitter nights. I was not surprised to learn later in my residency training about seasonal affective disorder and about the effects of light on mood. With this background, I felt primed to write a column about a new study, "Direct Effect of Sunshine on Suicide" (JAMA Psychiatry 2014 Sept. 10 [doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1198]).

In this study, investigators looked at public records of confirmed suicides in Austria between January 1970 and May 2010. They gathered 40 years of daily sunlight data from 86 meteorological stations. The amount of sunlight was defined as the duration of time that light intensity was higher than 120 watts per square meter, which apparently is the amount of light typically seen just after sunrise or just before sunset. Using this information, they compared daily suicide rates with the average daily duration of sunshine. Since sunlight varies in both duration and intensity over the seasons, the researchers used statistical methods to compensate for this, which distinguished this work from previous similar suicide studies. The authors then compared suicide rates by gender and method.

There were 69,462 suicide deaths, the majority through violent means such as hanging, drowning, shooting, or jumping. Only a quarter of the deaths were through nonviolent means such as poisoning. A significant correlation was found between the daily suicide rate and the daily duration of sunshine, but the surprising result was that sunshine appeared to have both a provocative and a palliative effect. Suicide rates climbed with increasing sunshine during the 10 days leading up to a suicide for suicides as a whole, for suicide through violent means, and for women. …

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