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Suicide? Blame the sun

When the word “suicide” comes to mind, usually it isn’t followed by pictures of blue skies and a bright yellow sun nudged between two puffy white clouds. Instead, and it would only seem logical, to picture dark, hazy skies with a side of thunder and rain. Suicide only happens on insidiously dark days and nights, right? Wrong. Actually, as Swedish researchers have come to discover, suicides may be just as common, if not more so, on long summer days.

It’s in places like Greenland where the sun doesn’t set in the summertime, where many people face insomnia, which can drive a person to suicide.

Constant sunlight harms our circadian rhythm, or our natural biological cycle that occurs day by day. Darkness is the primary cue for signaling the body into sleep, particularly into REM sleep when most of the body’s regeneration and repair takes place. Essentially, our circadian rhythm is the reason we sleep at night and are awake during the day.

Since quantity of sleep is connected to a person’s mental heath, and if a person’s circadian rhythm isn’t allowed to properly function and send the body into necessary deep sleep patterns at around the same time every day, the body becomes increasingly weak and tired. As a result, a person can develop depression through insomnia, and depression can often lead to suicidal thoughts.

At least 877,000 people worldwide kill themselves each year, according to World Health Organization. The U.N. agency estimates that for every suicide death, 10 to 40 attempts are made.

Sleep disturbances have been previously linked to increased suicidal risk in people with psychiatric disorders and adolescents. It is not clear, however, whether this trend is true for the general population.

The Swedish study was conducted in Greenland from 1968 to 2002, and focused on the seasonal variation of suicides. Summer months showed the most suicides.

This effect was most notable in northern Greenland, where the sun remains perched high in the sky from the end of April through the end of August.

One of the researchers said that the suicides were almost exclusively violent and increased during periods of constant sunlight, with 82 percent of the suicides occurring during the daylight months in the northern regions.

Most of the suicides studied involved young men and were violent, such as shooting, hanging and jumping from high places. These types of deaths accounted for 95 percent of all the suicides.

It was speculated by the research team that light-generated imbalances in serotonin – the brain chemical linked to mood – may lead to increased irrationality that when combined with a lack of sleep may drive people to kill themselves.

And all along I thought that paradise was all about lounging under the heat of the sun, watching the tide come in and out, sipping on some iced tea…enjoying the thought of endless summer days.

Maybe I’ll stick closer to the equator for my summer vacation this year and try to enjoy my nightly Z’s just a little bit more.

7 comments so far

scary i’ve been living in Florida for 22 years. maybe its time to leave.

doesn’t dreary weather affect mood too? is there any good happy weather?

I certainly agree with people who are living in an area where the sun shines all night and day feeling sleep deprived and on edge, causing more harmful reactions to different things. But when you come out of those areas and just to times when days are longer, like summer. I wonder if it is the longer days that are effecting people or if it is other things going on in the lives of people have over the summer. School is out, kids have more time to do nothing other than think and waste time. Plus parents then begin to realize how infrequently they see their children and more bad thoughts creep in. I don’t know if I can blame the sun for all the suicides in the world quite yet.

So we are essentially deciding that cold, cloudy weather in the north (winter) makes people depressed because of the lack of sunlight and the summer makes people want to kill themselves. Man… humans certainly are fickle and hard to please…

James,

Actually, it has been proven that living in Florida, or places that experience consistent amounts of sunshine, as long as that sunshine is accompanied by equal amounts of darkness, provide for happier people. This has to do with the amount of vitamin D that sunshine brings (A LOT) and the simple fact that sunny, bright days promote cheerier people. So no worries about having to leave Florida. It doesn’t affect the circadian rhythm like I outlined above for places like Greenland. You’d have to have constant light for many, many days to experience a real adverse affect.

This leads into your second question about dreary days. Yes, darker days promote depression and sadness. Stick to sunny days and you should be fine. I can’t think of anywhere other than the Sunshine State where you’d be more likely to get that. 🙂

Gill,

You make some good points. Certainly there is more to depression and suicidal thoughts than just constant sunshine, though they weren’t accounted for in my article or that of the published data I used to write it.

Having more time on irritable, grouchy hands doesn’t sound like a good mix to me, and that’s exactly what’s happening. So it definitely has to do with their days being longer.

Jim,

I’ll definitely agree with you on the whole humans being fickle point. The grass is always greener…right? But I just wanted to make clear that yes, in places that experience less sunlight year round are more likely to also experience grouchy people, BUT, places that experience a lot of sunlight aren’t necessarily going to experience suicidal maniacs. This only goes for those who live in places like Alaska and Greenland where the sun doesn’t actually set for several months at a time. Since the body is triggered into sleep by darkness, it would be very difficult to get any rest in a place that doesn’t see night normally.

I certainly agree with people who are living in an area where the sun shines all night and day feeling sleep deprived and on edge, causing more harmful reactions to different things. But when you come out of those areas and just to times when days are longer, like summer. I wonder if it is the longer days that are effecting people or if it is other things going on in the lives of people have over the summer. School is out, kids have more time to do nothing other than think and waste time. Plus parents then begin to realize how infrequently they see their children and more bad thoughts creep in. I don’t know if I can blame the sun for all the suicides in the world quite yet.

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