Sunshine Directly Impacts Suicide Rates

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Sunshine Directly Impacts Suicide Rates
Author Stephanie McClain Riddle PharmD

New research reveals a direct correlation between the amount of sunshine to which an individual is exposed, and the incidence of suicide. Other studies have shown correlations of climate and seasonal changes to the rates of suicide in specified countries, as well as worldwide, but the recent research is the first to provide detailed information on sunshine exposure and its risk and benefits. The study was published in the September 2014 online version of JAMA Psychiatry.

The study researchers reviewed confirmed suicide data over a 40 year period involving nearly 70,000 subjects in Austria, and statistically adjusted the data to base their findings on the impact of sunshine exposure independent of seasonal variation. The study results show two clear patterns. The first shows a higher rate of suicide with sunshine exposure on the day of the suicide event, and up to 10 days prior. The second pattern indicates a clear protective effect of sunshine exposure. Lower rates of suicide resulted when patients were exposed to sunshine for longer periods, from 14 to 60 days.

The study investigators discuss previous research that correlates seasonal changes with fluctuations in the incidence of suicide, including violent suicides. The authors suggest their findings are consistent with brain chemistry involving changes in serotonin levels, which may then impact behavioral changes. The behavioral changes can include mood shifts and impulsive behaviors, which may influence suicidal thinking, and both attempts and completed suicide events.

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics report suicide rates to have a seasonal shift. Lower rates are seen in the winter months, with a noted pattern of higher rates seen in the spring and early summer. Previous research done worldwide shows a link to annual rhythmic changes of certain chemicals in the brain that are part of the serotonergic system, with study results supporting the change in the brain chemicals studied and resulting in confirmation of a true seasonal component to the incidence of suicide. It has been difficult to provide the correlate between seasonal changes and the suicide rate influence across the globe. The latest research based on sunlight exposure, independent of season, helps to provide a better understanding of this variable.

More research is warranted to help determine the patients at highest risk as well as those that may get the greatest benefit from an increase in sunlight exposure. Severe episodes of depression in anyone warrant close observation and medical attention. Your physician or health care provider can help direct you to the appropriate level of care for people that suffer from depression and depression-related illnesses. Do not ignore these symptoms. It can truly be a matter of life or death.

References for this article are available upon request.
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