Study Contradicts Popular Belief About Seasonality of Suicides

Jul 08, 2009

( -- Contrary to popular belief, more Americans commit suicide in summer than in winter, and the day of the week when individuals are more likely to take their own lives has shifted from Monday to Wednesday, researchers at the University of California, Riverside have found.

In a paper published online by the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Augustine Kposowa, professor of sociology, and graduate student Stephanie D’Auria examined data for all deaths by suicide in the United States over a five-year period, from 2000 through 2004.

Kposowa and D’Auria analyzed the U.S. Multiple Cause of Death Files and found that the highest percentage of suicides (24.6 percent) occurred on Wednesdays and the lowest percentage was reported on Thursdays (11.1 percent). That finding contradicts decades of earlier research, which suggested that suicides peak on Mondays.

“There has been a definite shift from Monday to Wednesday,” Kposowa said. “Wednesday is a strange time, but it holds true for men and women, and for whites and nonwhites.”

One plausible explanation for the Wednesday effect may have to do with the way Americans have increasingly come to view work, as not something pleasurable to do but merely to survive, he said. “A workplace is not somewhere one looks forward to going, but one nevertheless has to be there or else lose one’s source of livelihood. With increased global economic competition, old protections no longer apply, and no one can take anything for granted anymore. Increasingly, uncertainty about job insecurity comes with heightened levels of stress. It is highly likely that the middle of the week (represented by Wednesday) is when these stressors are at their highest.”

A second major finding of the study is that more people are likely to take their lives in summer (26 percent) than in winter (23.8 percent). Springtime is a close second at 25.8 percent.

Kposowa called those results baffling and said they challenge any view of seasonal affective disorder - mood changes related to a change in seasons, sometimes referred to as winter blues - having an effect on when suicides are more likely to occur.

“The United States has changed in very dramatic ways - ways that we do not yet fully understand - particularly with regard to technology,” he said. The sociologist said previous studies that showed suicides peaking in winter (December, January and February) were done before e-mail, cell phones and blackberries permeated American culture, making it easier to stay connected with friends and family during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“We need to refine assumptions we have made about mental states, mental disorders and suicide, especially when we link them to social support and loneliness,” Kposowa said. “In the old days it may have been true that people felt isolated and lonely, therefore suicide may be higher in winter. With information technology, those old ways may no longer apply.”

The mere fact of cold weather in the winter does not necessarily limit social ties or promote depression and higher suicidal behavior, Kposowa and D’Auria wrote. “Disentangling the various ideas raised here presents a clear research challenge in the quest to increase more fully our knowledge of the link between temporal factors and suicide,” they wrote.

It’s possible, Kposowa said, that the higher percentage of suicides occurring in summer and spring is related to the propensity of many Americans to evaluate themselves through “relative deprivation” - the notion of “keeping up with the Joneses.”

“In summer people are traveling and displaying more of their luxuries, such as automobiles, attractive homes, expensive vacations,” he said. “We are constantly comparing what we have and what we think we should have against what others have. Life tends to begin in spring and passions come to life, so to speak. We begin to make these comparisons. Some people decide they are unable to have a better life, that they have failed in life, and thereby come to believe that perhaps life is not worth living.”

Knowledge of day or season when suicides are more likely to happen could help clinicians and therapists in advising patients and potential victims, Kposowa and D’Auria suggested.

“A clinician could become more proactive, whether through medication or advice, thereby intervening to prevent death,” they wrote. “… If psychological and certain social problems are significantly more likely to be experienced on Wednesday, then future research could try to disentangle what these problems are … .”

The UCR researchers also found that the risk of suicide is greater for individuals who live in states with higher suicide rates, perhaps because a high suicide rate increases awareness of suicide and creates attitudes favorable to suicidal behavior; and that the risk of decreases in states with proportionally larger numbers of physicians.

Provided by University of California, Riverside

Explore further: Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Suicide More Likely Among Divorced Immigrants

Mar 19, 2008

Divorced immigrants are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as native-born Americans who are divorced, according to a study of Riverside County residents co-authored by UC Riverside sociology professor Augustine J. ...

Suicide risk linked to birth month

May 03, 2006

Babies born in April, May and June are more likely to commit suicide than people born during the other nine months of the year, British researchers say.

Suicide spikes for U.S. middle-aged

Feb 19, 2008

A five-year study on suicide in the United States found a 20 percent increase in the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds, out-pacing any other age group.

Teenage suicides: Study advocates greater family support

Apr 21, 2008

Teenage suicide is often perceived as the result of rejection of family, significant others and of society. Families affected by teenage suicide often look back for warning signs and clues in order to make sense of the tragedy. ...

Recommended for you

Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Apr 18, 2014

A new article published online in The Gerontologist reports that among older Christians, listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-e ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.