Tag Archives: suicide

Hip-hop hit song named after suicide hotline linked to fewer suicides in the US

Logic on the “Bobby Tarantino vs Everybody” Tour. Photo by Anton Mak (@iAmAntonMak).

In 2017, Grammy-awarded rapper and producer Logic released “1-800-273-8255”, an emotional anthem named after the suicide prevention hotline. The song, which features Alessia Cara and Khalid, starts off from the perspective of someone suffering from depression who calls the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, confessing that they “Don’t want to be alive”. But, ultimately, the song delivers a message of hope. “You don’t gotta die, I want you to be alive,” the second verse starts off, delivered from the perspective of the supportive person at the other end of the hotline.

The song proved an instant hit, reaching number three in the US Billboard charts and garnering over 430 million views for the official music video. Many listeners identified with the track’s message, some sharing their story on social media and how the song helped them keep their own thoughts of suicide at bay.

Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, an associate professor at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, investigated whether these anecdotal reports actually reflected a change in suicide numbers across the country.

“There have been some experimental studies which suggest that stories of recovery and help-seeking for suicidal ideation can reduce suicidal ideation in the audience. But we have not yet had a chance to investigate this effect in the population at large, because stories of hope and recovery rarely receive a large audience such as the Logic song did,” Niederkrotenthaler told ZME Science.

Niederkrotenthaler and colleagues examined the association between Logic’s song and the number of daily calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, as well as daily suicides in the US. The numbers were crunched over three particularly important timeframes: the song’s release, and live performances at the Music Awards in 2017 and the Grammy Awards in 2018. Using data from Twitter posts, in the 34 days period immediately after each there events, public attention was the strongest.

Across these periods, there were an extra 9,915 calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an increase of 6.9% over the expected number. Furthermore, there was a reported reduction of 245 suicides, which represents a very significant 6.9% drop relative to the expected number.

“This indicates that the song had a strong effect on help-seeking from the Lifeline, and simultaneously, there was a noteworthy drop in suicides,” said Niederkrotenthaler, who only found out about the song in 2020, “already nearly three years after its release! So we thought we needed to be quick in compiling an analysis,” he added.

The study is observational and there was no formal attempt to establish a causal relationship, but the very significant increase in calls to the suicide hotline, as well as the drop in suicides, suggest the song had an important influence.

“From experimental studies, we know that there are a few mechanisms that might help explain the effects. Basically, individuals in crisis who identify with the song might be most encouraged to seek help just like the character in Logic’s song (the Lifeline is prominently featured in the song), and they might think about how they can, just like the protagonist in Logic’s video, overcome and cope with their crisis. This might include seeking help from the Lifeline, getting other professional help, speaking with friends, finding love, etc, all of these are featured in the video,” said Niederkrotenthaler.

The Washington Post reported that people routinely told Logic that his music saved their lives.

“In my mind, I was like, ‘Man I wasn’t even trying to save anybody’s life,'” he said. “And then it hit me — the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now what could happen if I actually did?”

Logic was in contact with representatives of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ahead of the song’s release. John Draper, the organization’s director, praised the song.

“By sharing these stories of recovery from individuals who have been there and have survived their own crises, we can change the conversation about suicide from one of tragedy and isolation to one of hope,” Draper said in a statement. “It’s an honor for us to be working alongside Logic to help people in despair find hope and meaning.”

Years later, there’s now evidence that Logic’s efforts truly paid off, potentially saving hundreds of lives. Further work is needed, however, in order to establish the exact psychological mechanisms of action that enable a song to lift people out of their darkest hour.

“The study highlights that it is of the highest importance to communicate about how to cope with severe adversities and crisis situations, in order to help prevent suicide—and to get help, which is available, for example, from the Lifeline!” said Niederkrotenthaler.

The findings appeared in The British Medical Journal.

Assisted suicide 3D-printed pod deemed legal in Switzerland

The 3-D printed Sarco. Credit: Exit International.

It looks like a prop for a SciFi movie (Alien‘s cryosleep chambers come to mind), but this 3D-printed capsule is meant for very worldly, some would say sinister, matters. For most people that climb inside, it will be the last thing they’ll see.

Called the ‘Sarco’ machine, this high-tech death chamber is destined for use in assisted suicide. Once inside, the person seeking to end their suffering may press a button that activates a mechanism that floods the capsule with nitrogen. In under a minute, the oxygen level drops to 1% from 21%.

Death is painless due to oxygen and carbon dioxide deprivation. The patient first goes unconscious, with death following 5-10 minutes later. There is no choking feeling or panic, according to Dr. Philip Nitschke, Sarco’s inventor and the founder of Australia-registered Exit International, a non-profit that “provide information and guidance on assisted suicide and end of life matters.”

“The person will get into the capsule and lie down.  It’s very comfortable. They will be asked a number of questions and when they have answered, they may press the button inside the capsule activating the mechanism in their own time,” Nitschke told SwissInfo in an interview.

According to Gizmodo, Sarco has recently received legal approval from Swiss authorities and could perform the first assisted suicides as early as 2022.

Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world where assisted suicides and euthanasia are legal. In 2020 alone, some 1,300 people died by assisted suicide in the country. Elsewhere, in the Netherlands, a staggering 6,585 cases of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide were undertaken in 2017, representing 4.4% of the total number of deaths in that year. Other countries where assisted suicide is legally allowed include Colombia, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, and some US states like California, Colorado, and Hawaii, although each region has different requirements.

Assisted suicide refers to helping someone to take their own life at their request but the final deed is undertaken by the person seeking suicide themselves. Euthanasia is also a form of assisted suicide, with the notable difference that it is undertaken by someone else, usually a doctor. Passive euthanasia refers to the withdrawal of life support and life-sustaining treatment.

In order for a person to be allowed to perform such a procedure, the patient has to be terminally ill, in great suffering, with no other forms of significant treatment available.

Typically, assisted suicides are performed by ingesting liquid sodium pentobarbital, a lethal drug that causes the patient to enter a coma within five minutes, followed soon by death.

Sarco also offers a peaceful death, just way more high-tech. The coffin-like capsule is designed with comfort in mind and since it doesn’t involve any dangerous controlled substances, it will be easier for someone seeking assisted suicide to actually use it. Assisted suicides are required to document consent every step of the way, which is why Sarco has built-in cameras and communication hardware.

Nitschke would like to streamline the process even further, if possible, by using artificial intelligence in lieu of human psychiatrists.

” Currently a doctor or doctors need to be involved to prescribe the sodium pentobarbital and to confirm the person’s mental capacity. We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves,” he told SwissInfo.

“Our aim is to develop an artificial intelligence screening system to establish the person’s mental capacity. Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism, especially on the part of psychiatrists. But our original conceptual idea is that the person would do an online test and receive a code to access the Sarco.”

A Sarco prototype is currently on display at art and design events across Europe. Credit: Exit International.

There are two prototypes built so far, with a third undergoing printing in the Netherlands. No person has used a Sarco yet, but that may change very soon now that the developers have received the go-ahead.


Both euthanasia and assisted suicide have proven extremely controversial among both doctors and the general public. Doctors have to swear an oath to “do no harm”, and some believe these practices go blatantly against this fundamental principle. Other critics are less obtuse and believe that easily accessible assisted suicide may make some patients make rash decisions.

More liberal doctors believe that every person should have autonomy in when to die. Many terminally ill patients are so weak they can’t move a finger but are nevertheless in a great deal of suffering. Other patients are literally paralyzed, suffering from multiple conditions, and are in great emotional and mental distress. When discussing the fate of a patient with end-stage cancer and severe unbearable suffering, it is challenging to raise the issue of ‘harming’ the patient in this situation.

Assisted suicides and legal euthanasia will likely remain a point of contention for years to come. In the meantime, Sarco will have time to prove that it’s not just some fancy high-tech coffin but rather a modern vehicle for voluntarily ending unbearable suffering.

Despite the pandemic, suicide rates keep declining in Japan

Stay at home. That has been the global message to avoid a further spread of the novel coronavirus, with diverse lockdowns now in place in many countries. But being at home without going outside can be challenging for our mental health.

Credit Fickr

The UN has said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed many years of neglect and underinvestment in addressing people’s mental health needs, calling for ambitious commitments from countries in the way they treat psychiatric illness.

A recent international survey of almost 11,000 people found that more than half of all adults had recently felt depressed or hopeless about the future: 57% in the United Kingdom, 67% in Spain, and 59% in Italy.

In the United States, the Disaster Distress Helpline saw a 338% increase in call volume in March compared with February 2020.

Nevertheless, that’s not necessarily the reality faced by all countries. In Japan, the suicide rate has dropped 20% in April compared to the same month last year – the biggest decline seen by Japan in five years.

Up to 1,455 people took their lives in April 2020 in Japan, which represents 359 fewer cases than in April 2019. The drop follows a long-term path, as suicide rates have been declining for a decade now. The peak was in 2003 with 34,000 cases, dropping to 20,000 last year.

With schools closed, children are safer from bullies

Despite the decline registered over the last few years, there was an increase in suicide rates among children, who were exposed to bullying at school. The academic year usually starts in April but now, with all schools closed, this likely helped to prevent more suicide cases.

“School is pressure for some young people, but this April there is no such pressure,” said Yukio Saito, a former head of telephone counseling service the Japanese Federation of Inochi-no-Denwa, told The Guardian. “At home with their families, they feel safe.”

The coronavirus infection reached its peak in Japan around mid-April, with about 500 cases registered per day. Following the peak, the government declared a state of emergency. Less tight restrictions were implemented than in other countries but suicide preventive organizations were forced to shut down their doors.

The fact that only a small number of people are commuting to work every day has helped to maintain the declining figures, Saito said. Nevertheless, she highlighted that if the pandemic hurts the economy badly, cases could go up. In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, suicide rates went up by 35%

With many suicide helplines and organizations now closed, many people have shown their willingness to help. Half a million have carried out online training courses to prevent suicides during the last three weeks. The Zero Suicide Alliance created the course, which has already reached a million participants since it was launched in 2017.

Blue-collar workers face the highest risk of suicide in the US, report shows

In less than two decades, the suicide rate in individuals of working age in the US has increased by 40%, particularly affecting workers on the mining, oil and gas, construction, and vehicle industries, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Credit Wikipedia Commons

The report looked at data from 32 states that participated in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). The public health institute reported that almost 38,000 people between 16 to 64 years of age committed suicide in 2017. This means a rate of 18 people out of 100,000, compared to 12.9 in the year 2000.

“Previous research indicates suicide risk is associated with low-skilled work, lower education, lower absolute and relative socioeconomic status, work-related access to lethal means, and job stress, including poor supervisory and colleague support, low job control, and job insecurity, the CDC wrote.

Among all men, the suicide rate was 27.4 individuals per 100,000 people, going up to 49.4 per 100.000 in the construction field. The professions with the highest suicide rate for men were mining, quarrying and oil and gas, with a 54.2 per 100.000 suicide rate.

Meanwhile, in the case of women, the rate for the total population was 7.7 per 100.000 individuals. Construction and extraction were the professions with the highest rate for women at 25.5 per 100.000 individuals.

The researchers said the report had several limitations. It didn’t look at the factors that might account for different suicide rates among and within the industry or occupational groups, it didn’t address suicide in unemployed workers, and the results aren’t nationally representative. Nevertheless, the findings highlighted the importance of prevention strategies such as increasing economic support, teaching problem-solving and coping skills and improving access to delivery of care. All industries can benefit from a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, researchers claimed.

“These findings highlight opportunities for targeted prevention strategies and further investigation of work-related factors that might increase the risk of suicide,” according to the CDC.

The report also mentioned a set of strategies to improve the overall well-being of workers. The list includes training workers to detect early signals and respond to them, giving them more time off and benefits, reducing the access to lethal means and creating a plan to respond to the needs of others at risk.

CDC’s workplace strategies to prevent suicide

-Promoting help-seeking

-Integrating workplace safety and health programs to advance the well-being of workers

-Referring workers to financial and other helping services

-Facilitating time-off and benefits

-Reducing access to lethal means

-Creating a crisis response plan

Every $1 increase in minimum wage decreases suicide rate by up to 6%

Credit: Pixabay.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in high-income countries, after road injury. According to the World Health Organization, the intervention that has the most imminent potential to bring down the number of suicides is restricting access to pesticides that can be used for self-poisoning. However, a more effective measure may be improving the standard of living by raising the minimum wage. A 26-year study found that for every single US dollar increase in the minimum wage, the suicide rate falls by 3.5% to 6%.

“Despite progress [worldwide], one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way.”

In 2017, suicides accounted for nearly one in five deaths among young people aged 18 to 24. The number of preventable suicide deaths has only increased over the years in the United States, with suicide rates jumping by more than 30% in half of all states between 1999 and 2017.

A combination of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide, including a family history of suicide, alcohol and substance abuse, and physical illness.

Financial stressors have always been associated with suicide risk, but less was known about the potential impact some economic interventions might have on suicide rates.

Researchers at the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta wanted to fill the gap in our knowledge. To this aim, they looked at the difference between the effective state and federal minimum hourly wage for all 50 states and Washington DC and state unemployment and suicide rates.

The analysis covered 18- to 64-year olds and looked at changes in the minimum wage for every month between 1990 and 2015.

Between 1990 and 2015, there were 478 changes in state minimum wages across US states. The average difference in wages between the states at and above the federal minimum wage was US$ 2,200/year for a full-time employee.

During the same time period, nearly 400,000 people with a high school education or less took their own lives compared with nearly 140,000 people with a college degree or higher.

Increases in the minimum wage seem to have no impact on the suicide rate among those with a college degree, likely because stressors other than finances prompted them to take their own lives. However, there was a significant effect among those with a high school education or less — every dollar increase in the minimum wage led to a 3.5-6% reduction in suicides.

This relationship was mitigated by state-level unemployment rate. When there weren’t enough jobs, progressively higher minimum wages were linked to lower suicide rates. This association weakened when unemployment was low.

Bearing these estimates in mind, the authors of the new study calculated that 13,800 suicides could have been prevented between 2009 (a peak unemployment year following the financial crash) and 2015 if the minimum wage had increased by $1. A $2 increase would have prevented 25,900 suicides.

“Our findings are consistent with the notion that policies designed to improve the livelihoods of individuals with less education, who are more likely to work at lower wages and at higher risk for adverse mental health outcomes, can reduce the suicide risk in this group,” the authors concluded in their study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

“Our findings also suggest that the potential protective effects of a higher minimum wage are more important during times of high unemployment,” they added.

Suicide rates are rising across the US, especially in rural areas

Suicide is, sadly, becoming more common in America, especially in rural areas.

Image credits Engin Akyurt.

A new study from The Ohio State University found that suicide rates jumped by 41%, from an average of 15 per 100,000 residents to 21.2 per 100,000 between 2014 and 2016. The study evaluated national suicide data from 1999 to 2016 to provide a county-by-county picture of the suicide toll among adults.

It also highlights a cluster of factors, including lack of insurance and the prevalence of gun shops, that are associated with high suicide rates.

Highest where life is hardest

“While our findings are disheartening, we’re hopeful that they will help guide efforts to support Americans who are struggling, especially in rural areas where suicide has increased the most and the fastest,” said lead researcher Danielle Steelesmith, a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

The study found that suicide rates were highest in the least-populous counties of the US, and in the areas where people have the lowest income and most limited access to resources. From 2014 through 2016, suicide rates were 17.6 per 100,000 in large metropolitan counties compared with 22 per 100,000 in rural counties. In urban areas, the team adds, counties with more guns shops tended to have higher rates of adult suicide.

All in all, counties in Western states including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming tended to have the highest rates of suicide, as did the Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and those in the Ozarks, including Arkansas and Missouri.

“Suicide is so complex, and many factors contribute, but this research helps us understand the toll and some of the potential contributing influences based on geography, and that could drive better efforts to prevent these deaths,” said Steelesmith.

The study analyzed 453,577 suicides by adults (25 to 64 years old) from 1996 to 2016. Suicides were most common among men and those 45 to 54 years old. The team says adult suicide rates have increased between 2014 and 2016 despite a national prevention effort that kicked off in 2015, which aimed to reduce suicide rates by 20% by 2025.

Ohio State University.

The findings can help guide and bolster the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts says Cynthia Fontanella, a study co-author and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State.

“For example, all communities might benefit from strategies that enhance coping and problem-solving skills, strengthen economic support and identify and support those who are at risk for suicide,” Fontanella said.

She adds that the link between urban gun shops and higher suicide rates suggests they can be targeted to reduce access to the means people use to commit suicide. In rural areas, “deprivation” was a closely-related factor to suicide rates. Deprivation includes a cluster of conditions including underemployment, poverty, and low educational attainment.

Long-term and persistent poverty may be more entrenched in rural areas, the team explains, and economic opportunities more limited. Steelesmith adds that many rural Americans rely on jobs in agriculture and industries like coal mining, which are dwindling. They also suffer from a lack of support services that they may turn to in their time of need.

“In cities, you have a core of services that are much easier to get to in many cases. You may have better access to job assistance, food banks and nonprofits that might all contribute to less desperation among residents,” Steelesmith said.

High social fragmentation — which factors in levels of single-person households, rates of unmarried residents, and the impermanence of residents — and low social capital were also particularly pronounced in rural America, the team explains. Social capital is a measure of how connected or closely-knit a given society is.

Other factors associated with higher suicide rates included high percentages of veterans in a county and lower rates of insurance coverage.

Fontanella explains that people who live in rural America would particularly benefit from strategies designed to promote social connections. Community engagement activities that give residents the chance to interact and to become familiar with supportive resources in their area would be a good approach. Steelesmith adds that some states, particularly in the West, have large counties with great variability in terms of resident life experiences, for instance, so solutions need to be tailored for individual communities.

The paper “Contextual Factors Associated With County-Level Suicide Rates in the United States, 1999 to 2016” has been published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Child suicide rates are surging in the US — and we’re not really sure why

For the second decade in a row, the number of children and teens reaching the emergency room following suicide attempts has doubled. It’s not clear what is driving the numbers up, and doctors fear the numbers will continue to grow.

“The numbers are very alarming,” paediatric emergency room physician Brett Burstein from McGill University told CNN. “We are seeing an acceleration of this issue, and I worry that we have not yet seen the peak.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is considered the second leading cause of death among college students. It’s not just young adults — teen suicide has also been going steadily up since 2000. In a new study, researchers analyzed how many children reached emergency departments (ED) following suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.

In 2007, there an estimated 580 000 children reached the ED with suicide-related concerns. By 2015, that number had risen to 1.12 million. Not only has the figure doubled, but the median age was 13 years old — much lower than what most people would expect. Conversely, there was no statistically significant change in total ED visits during this time, so it wasn’t that simply more children are going to the ED.

Lisa Horowitz, a paediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, told USA Today that the numbers are simply shocking. “It’s just chilling,” she said.

Data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of course, most cases never translate to actal suicides — and we’re thankful that they don’t. But suicidal thoughts and behavior are by far the best predictor of actual suicide. Many children with suicide attempts and suicidal ideation (the thinking, considering, or planning of suicide) first present to the ED before actually attempting suicide.

These trends are also exhibited by the overall US suicide ratem which has increased 24% between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000 people. In 2016, the last year with thoroughly analyzed data, suicide hit an all time high. So it’s clear that something is driving suicide rates up, but it’s not clear what that something is — and it’s probably not one singular issue.

“No conclusions can be drawn regarding the cause for the observed increase, which is likely multifactorial,” the authors write in their report.

But even if the cause is not fully understood, proactive measures could be taken, researchers say.

“Findings suggest a critical need to augment community mental health resources, ED physician preparedness, and post-emergency department risk reduction initiatives to decrease the burden of suicide among children,” the researchers conclude.

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This study has been published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Twice as many people die of gun-related suicide than homicide in the U.S. — but Americans perceive the opposite

Americans believe that most firearm fatalities are due to homicides, and not suicides. Medical records, however, suggest that the opposite is true, with twice as many people dying from suicide than from homicides. This significant gap in the public’s perception and reality could potentially be dangerous due to improper use and storage of firearms.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

To understand the American public’s perception of the leading causes of violent death in the nation, researchers at the University of Washington, Northeastern University, and Harvard University analyzed data from the 2015 National Firearms Survey, a web-based survey of nearly 4,000 U.S. adults.

Respondents were asked to rank the causes of death in their state over the past year. These responses were then compared to the state’s official death count.

“This research indicates that in the scope of violent death, the majority of U.S. adults don’t know how people are dying,” Erin Morgan, lead author and doctoral student at the University of Washington, said in a statement. “Knowing that the presence of a firearm increases the risk for suicide, and that firearm suicide is substantially more common than firearm homicide, may lead people to think twice about whether or not firearm ownership and their storage practices are really the safest options for them and their household.”

The inconsistency between the actual data and the public’s perception suggests that some people may be at risk. The perception that homicides are far more prevalent than they actually are — perhaps fueled by disproportionate mediate reports — may motivate some individuals to purchase firearms for protection. But having a firearm in the house may actually lead to more trouble due to the increased risk of deliberate or accidental suicide.

Morgan and colleagues argue that the gap in the American public’s perception of violent death needs to be addressed through education.

However, not just any media coverage will do. A meta-analysis performed by researchers at Wayne State University, Michigan, found that “studies measuring the effect of either an entertainment or political celebrity suicide story were 14.3 times more likely to find a copycat effect than studies that did not.”

Keeping a gun locked, keeping it unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and storing it in a separate location have each been found to be associated with a protective effect

“We know that this is a mixture of mass and individual communication, but what really leads people to draw the conclusions that they do?” Morgan said. “If people think that the rate of homicide is really high because that’s what is shown on the news and on fictional TV shows, then these are opportunities to start to portray a more realistic picture of what’s happening.”

The findings were reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine

Another bleak consequence of climate change: more suicides

As if climate change wasn’t bringing enough problems, a new study reports that rising temperatures will cause more suicides.

If you’re not experiencing massive heatwaves (and living in the Northern Hemisphere) — consider yourself lucky. Most areas from the US, Mexico, Western Europe, Northern Europe, China, and even Japan are experiencing temperatures significantly higher than usual. We’ve actually been on a continuous streak of 400 hotter-than-average months, in a striking indication that whether we care to admit it or not, global warming is upon us.

Among the many long-lasting and far-reaching consequences of climate change, it seems to also have an effect on our mental state. “Linkages between climate and mental health are often theorized but remain poorly quantified,” write Marshall Burke and colleagues in a new study published in Nature. Burke, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University wanted to see whether there is a connection between the rate of suicide, a leading cause of death globally, and climatic changes. As it turns out, it does. People are more likely to take their own lives when temperatures go up.

The study analyzed data from thousands of American and Mexican neighborhoods over several decades. It found that suicide rates go up 0.7% in US counties and 2.1% in Mexican municipalities for a 1 °C increase in monthly average temperature. This shift is brutal. It would result in an additional 21,000 suicides in the US and Mexico by 2050, for a 2.5 °C.

“When talking about climate change, it’s often easy to think in abstractions. But the thousands of additional suicides that are likely to occur as a result of unmitigated climate change are not just a number, they represent tragic losses for families across the country,” said Burke, who also works in Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.

It’s not the first time something like this has been suggested. Back in 1881the Italian physician Enrico Morselli noted that suicide rates peak in the summer, ominously writing that the change “too great for it to be attributed to chance of the human will.” The CDC also notes that US suicides peak in the early summer, and hot days, in particular, seem to cause small spikes in suicide.

However, this is the first comprehensive study to quantify this effect and make a prediction.

Despite popular belief, which would have winter as the most depressive season, the researchers’ analysis of depressive language in over 600 million social media updates further suggests that mental well-being deteriorates during warmer periods, not during winter.

Scientists note that we don’t really know what the mechanism pushing these changes is. It may have something to do with the way our brain reacts to thermoregulation in hot temperatures, Burke says, but this wasn’t the focus of the study.

Still, in order to keep things in perspective — hotter temperatures are not the main cause for suicides, nor are they the only factor driving suicides up. But for the many people who are on the edge every day, heat may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“Hotter temperatures are clearly not the only, nor the most important, risk factor for suicide,” Burke emphasized.

“But our findings suggest that warming can have a surprisingly large impact on suicide risk, and this matters for both our understanding of mental health as well as for what we should expect as temperatures continue to warm.”

In Americans aged 10-34, suicide is the second-most-common cause of death in America, and it’s also one of the very few leading causes of death in the where the age-adjusted mortality rate is not falling — in other words, the number of suicides is not going down.

If this story strikes close to home and you feel like you need to talk to someone, here’s a list to help find a crisis hotline in your country.

The study has been published in Nature Climate Change.


Abnormal chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA might explain why suicide seems to favor some people


Credit: Pixabay.

There’s something extremely tragic about a suicide, perhaps even more so than deaths caused by other non-self-inflicting causes. Some diseases have an inevitable outcome but is this the case for most suicides too? That’s what hurts the most for the loved ones left behind — this uncertainty; that there was something they could have done to avert the tragedy. People kill themselves for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, life can be so overwhelming that the only seemingly practical solution is to end it all. It might a tough childhood, substance abuse, a broken marriage — but there’s a genetic makeup to it, too.

People who complete suicide or who have suicidal thoughts or behavior are more likely to have a family history of suicide. While some family members might feel ‘inspired’ by their suicidal siblings and relatives, it seems there’s some actual genetically driven behavior. Studies on twins suggest monozygotic twin pairs have a significantly greater incidence of both completed and attempted suicide than dizygotic twin pairs. Suicide is also most common among biological relatives of adopted suicides than among biological relatives of adopted controls. A 2003 study involving 21,168 Danes over a 17-year period found that the suicide mortality in the first-degree relatives of suicide victims is about 3.5 times that in the first-degree relatives of live controls who are matched for age, sex and date of suicide.

The overall findings from clinical, twin, adoption and laboratory molecular genetic studies suggest that there is a genetic susceptibility to suicidal behavior in people with severe stress or mental disorders. Now, Japanese researchers think they have uncovered some of the pathological features that may lead to suicide at a cellular level.

The team investigated how the chromosomes and mitochondria differed in people who committed suicide. They collected blood samples from 508 suicides and 538 healthy, living controls but also the brains from 20 suicides and 25 controls. They then proceeded to measure telomere length and the mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn) using a method called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR).

The conclusion was that people who had committed suicides had significantly shorter telomeres than healthy controls. This pattern was visible in young people (aged 34 and younger) and middle-aged women (35-59) but no longer apparent for elderly people, likely because telomeres shorten as we age. In white blood cells, the length of telomeres ranges from 8,000 base pairs in newborns to 3,000 base pairs in adults and as low as 1,500 in elderly people.

They also found mtDNAcn was significantly higher in those who committed suicide. Oddly, this pattern held true for elderly people but not for young or middle-aged participants. Young people have higher levels of mtDNAcn.

When the brain samples alone were considered,  both telomere length and mtDNAcn were lower among people who committed suicide.

The results seem a bit contradictory but they at least suggest a trend where biology is linked to suicidal events. Further studies might be able to shed light in broader detail. If they can confirm the findings, telomere length could serve as a biomarker for the risk of suicide.

“In conclusion, we report the first association of aberrant telomeres and mtDNAcn with suicide completion. Our results raise the possibility that further research into telomere shortening and mtDNA dysfunction may elucidate the molecular underpinnings of suicide-related pathophysiology,” the authors wrote.

Journal Reference: Ikuo Otsuka, et al. “Aberrant telomere length and mitochondrial DNA copy number in suicide completers.” Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 3176. Published: 9-June-2017. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-03599-8


Machine learning identifies suicidal patterns with 93 percent accuracy


Credit: Pixabay

Anywhere from 30 percent to two-thirds of all suicide attempts are based on an impulse decision — the last drop in the bucket. We know this from the accounts of people who made near-fatal suicide attempts, 70 percent of whom made a decision in less than an hour. But while this measure of last resort is often taken on a whim, studies suggest that there are patterns that describe suicidal behaviour. If you have the right eyes, you can spot them then offer the necessary support and guidance, averting an unnecessary fatality. Robots, who can work tirelessly, might be our best ‘eyes’ even for spotting people contemplating suicide, say researchers who used machine learning.

The team led by John Pestian, a professor in the divisions of Biomedical Informatics and Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, enlisted 379 who were classed as either suicidal, mentally ill but not suicidal, or neither, the latter group serving as a control.

Each patient was assessed using a standardized behavioral rating scale and had to answer five questions meant to stimulate conversation. Questions like ‘Do you have hope?’ or ‘Does it hurt emotionally?’

Control groups tended to laugh more during interviews, sigh less, express less anger and emotional pain.

Both the verbal and non-verbal cues were extracted for each individual and fed to machine learning algorithms which were trained to spot the biological markers related to suicide. By combining linguistic and acoustic characteristics, the machine proved very accurate at predicting which of the three groups an individual belonged to. It was actually 93 percent accurate in classifying suicidal persons and 85 percent accurate in identifying a person who had a mental illness but was thinking about killing himself.

“These computational approaches provide novel opportunities to apply technological innovations in suicide care and prevention, and it surely is needed,” says Dr. Pestian. “When you look around health care facilities, you see tremendous support from technology, but not so much for those who care for mental illness. Only now are our algorithms capable of supporting those caregivers. This methodology easily can be extended to schools, shelters, youth clubs, juvenile justice centers, and community centers, where earlier identification may help to reduce suicide attempts and deaths.”

The findings appeared in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

workplace suicide

Workplace suicides on the rise – doctors, law enforcement workers and soldiers most vulnerable

Each year worldwide about one million people decide to take their own lives. Overriding your conservation instincts isn’t easy, let’s say, and this typically happens on the onset of mental illness. In a society where people lives get ever more confused with their occupation, stress at work can sometimes trigger a tragedy. The numbers don’t lie. According to researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 1,700 people died by suicide on the job between 2003 to 2010.

workplace suicide

Image: Flickr

Men were 15 times more likely than women to commit suicide at the workplace. The most vulnerable are those working in protective services (medicine, law enforcement, military), followed by  farming, fishing and forestry.

In times of great economic distress, people might feel there is no way out. Another study found that the latest economic recession might be responsible for 10,000 self-inflicted deaths in North America. But even if one in five suicides are triggered by unemployment, there are still many with jobs who decide to take an unfortunate shortcut – even those gainfully employed. According to  Hope Tiesman, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the fine line between personal and work life is shrinking. We become more and more identified with what we do. It’s very easy to say ‘I’m a fireman’;’I’m a doctor’, and lose track of the fact that first and foremost we’re all human beings.

“The reasons for any suicide are complex, no matter where they take place. Usually many factors are at play,” says Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Among them are economic and work-related stressors.

At Foxconn, one of the biggest employers in the world, 18 people working at the factory in Shenzhen, China, attempted suicide in 2010. Another 150 threatened an en masse death jump in 2012 in protest of low wages and poor working conditions. Having a gun makes things a lot easier than jumping off a window, though. This might explain why law-enforcement officers and firefighters were more than 3.5 times more likely to take their lives at work than those in other occupations.

“There are many risk factors for suicide—from a person’s mental or physical health to his or her genetics—and workplace suicide is no exception,” she points out. “But by far the greatest risk is whether someone has access to the means—a gun, prescription medicines—to commit a suicidal act.”

What might sound surprising, however, is that workplace suicides among farmers are more frequent than among policemen. Financial hardship and rural isolation have been previously linked with suicide risk.

The researchers argue that employers should be very careful for signs of potential suicidal behavior. New and innovative workplace mental health programs that are tailored to the population that they have working there should be implemented. It’s important for people having suicidal thoughts to know that at least there’s someone who could help them deal with their work related problems. This is where  AFSP’s Interactive Screening Program (ISP) might come in handy. Initially developed  to help identify college students with serious depression or other suicide risk factors, the ISP has now been adapted for screening workplace vulnerabilities. Employees can take a survey, and after they’ve finished a person receives a response from a counselor that provides options for follow-up evaluation and treatment.

Use of Psychedelics Could Reduce Suicide Rates

Suicide rates have generally remained the same for decades, with slight increases in some areas of the world. Basically, scientists and medics don’t really know how to effectively tackle this issue, so they’re considering more unorthodox approaches. A new study has found that classic psychedelic use may reduce suicidal thinking, ultimately dropping suicide rates.

Image via Wine and Bowties.

“Despite advances in mental health treatments, suicide rates generally have not declined in the past 60 years. Novel and potentially more effective interventions need to be explored,” researcher Peter S. Hendricks, PhD, assistant professor in the department of health behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a press release. “This study sets the stage for future research to test the efficacy of classic psychedelics in addressing suicidality as well as pathologies associated with increased suicide risk (eg, affective disturbance, addiction and impulsive-aggressive personality traits).”

The thing is, several studies concluded that psychedelic drugs could have medical potential, and are not as damaging to the brain as previously thought. Now, Hendricks and his colleagues sed 2008 to 2012 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, detailing the relationship between psychedelic (and other) drugs and suicide rates.

“Mental health problems are endemic across the globe, and suicide, a strong corollary of poor mental health, is a leading cause of death. Classic psychedelic use may occasion lasting improvements in mental health, but the effects of classic psychedelic use on suicidality are unknown”, the study reads. “Lifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress, past year suicidal thinking, past year suicidal planning, and past year suicide attempt”.

The type of psychedelics is also important – classic psychedelics (like “magic mushrooms” or LSD) are the ones which caused the improvement.

Today, 500 million people globally suffer from mental diseases, according to the World Health Organization. A growing number of medical researchers seems to support the potential use of psychedelic drugs to treat and deal with these diseases.

“As a scientist, I am persuaded that classic psychedelics could be potent therapeutic agents,” he said. “Second, personally, I am intrigued by the notion of providing a profoundly meaningful personal or spiritual experience to occasion ‘quantum change’ — sudden, dramatic, lasting change.”

Still, despite this potential, such substances are grossly understudied, which is very strange to me. If you want to keep them completely banned and consider them as illicit, then you want to see what the negative effects are in detail, in order to justify the ban. If you want to use them for medical purposes, then you have all the more reasons to study them, right?

“Classic psychedelics carry a contentious recent history and barriers to their clinical evaluation remain. Growing evidence including the present research suggests that classic psychedelics may have the potential to alleviate human suffering associated with mental illness,” the researchers conclude.

Journal Reference: Hendricks PS, Thorne CB, Clark CB, Coombs DW, Johnson MW. Classic psychedelic use is associated with reduced psychological distress and suicidality in the United States adult population. J Psychopharmacol. 2015 Jan 13. pii: 0269881114565653

Unemployment causes 45,000 suicides each year

A new study found that unemployment is one of the main causes for suicide across the world – between 2001 and 2011, unemployment caused approximately 450,000 cases of suicide.

Image via Possibilities.nu

Are we living in a dystopian world? Previous estimates found that 1 million people worldwide take their lives by suicide every year, and now, a new study found that at least 45,000 of those are caused by unemployment. Is not having a job so bad that you want to end your life? Apparently, in many cases, it is. Lead author Dr. Carlos Nordt, of the University of Zurich Psychiatric Hospital in Switzerland and his colleagues urge governments to increase focus on reducing unemployment in order to lower its impact on suicide.

The team analyzed data on 63 countries over a period of 10 years, from 2001 to 2011 – they chose this period because they wanted to see if there are differences in periods of economic stability (before the crisis) and economic crisis. They estimate that in those countries there were 233,000 suicides each year, and 45,000 of those were caused by unemployment; in other words, 1 in 5 people who commit suicide do so because they don’t have a job.

What’s even more disturbing is that the number of suicide cases (both in total, and caused by unemployment) is rising.

“What is more,” the team adds, “our data suggest that not all job losses necessarily have an equal impact, as the effect on suicide risk appears to be stronger in countries where being out of work is uncommon. It is possible that an unexpected increase in the unemployment rate may trigger greater fears and insecurity than in countries with higher pre-crisis unemployment levels.”

According to researchers, governments have to take measures to prevent unemployment not only for economic and social security – but also to save lives.

“Besides specific therapeutic interventions, sufficient investment by governments in active labour market policies that enhance the efficiency of labour markets could help generate additional jobs and reduce the unemployment rate, helping to offset the impact on suicide.”

It should also be considered that suicides are just the extreme cases – the tip of the iceberg, the team puts it. Roger Webb and Navneet Kapur, both of the University of Manchester note that while their study only focused on suicide cases, unemployment is also extremely likely to have caused other issues.

“Many affected individuals who remain in work during these hard times encounter serious psychological stressors due to pernicious economic strains other than un­employment, including falling income, ‘zero­-hour’ contracting, job insecurity, bankruptcy, debt and home repossession,” they explain.

For future studies, they recommends focus on on “psychosocial manifestations of economic adversity,” such as non-fatal self-harm, stress and anxiety, depression, hopelessness, alcohol abuse, familial conflict and relationship breakdown. We know that, especially in some countries, unemployment can be a stigma and can cause massive psychological issues (aside to the financial ones), but we don’t know exactly how those problems manifest.

“We also need to know how and why highly resilient individuals who experience the greatest levels of economic adversity manage to sustain favorable mental health and well-being,” they add.

Journal Reference: Modelling suicide and unemployment: a longitudinal analysis covering 63 countries, 2000-11, Carlos Nordt, et al., The Lancet Psychiatry, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S2215-0366(14)00118-7, published online 11 February 2015, abstract.

The Lancet news release, accessed 10 February 2015 via AlphaGalileo.

Photo: headoverheels.org

Why you feel the urge to jump off a ledge. No, you’re not suicidal

Photo: headoverheels.org

Photo: headoverheels.org

A few months ago I went hiking with some of my friends in an absolutely stunning mountain setting. We climbed a country road for half an hour or so on foot, then reached a chalet right in the middle of a pine tree clearing and had a few beers with the keeper there, who was gracious enough to show us around. He told us about this incredible place only a few minutes walks away where we would find a 500foot waterfall the likes of which we’ve only dreamed about. Naturally, we went for it. It took us a hell of a lot more (but I thank him for lying, in retrospect), but here we were, right at the head of the waterfall, staring down as champagne-like water crashed into the rocks. Everybody around me was talking out loud how cool this whole place is. I could only think about jumping off. Not in a “hey, I’m sick of this world, I wanna die!” way. It was more like I was drawn to do it, be one with the water and simply flow. Luckily, my survival instincts didn’t fade me, so in the next instant I got the self-destructive thought flashing through my head, I backed off. But was this a matter of self-destruction of something else?

It took us a hell of a lot more (but I thank him for lying, in retrospect), but here we were, right at the head of the waterfall, staring down as champagne-like water crashed into the rocks. Everybody around me was talking out loud about how cool this whole place is. I could only think about jumping off. Not in a “hey, I’m sick of this world, I wanna die!” way. It was more like I was drawn to do it, be one with the water and simply flow. Luckily, my survival instincts didn’t fade me, so in the instant after I got the self-destructive thought flashing through my head, I backed off. But was this a matter of self-destruction of something else?

The experience made me reflect. I realized afterward that this wasn’t the first time I had this sensation. I occasionally had the feeling when I was near cliffs, rooftops, bridges and so on. I swear I’m not suicidal, though. So what does that make me? The perfect lab rat for a group of psychologists at Florida State University, it seems.

“We were talking one day in a lab meeting and some of us had experienced it,” recalled psychology doctoral student Jennifer Hames. But when the lab searched the psychology literature, they could find no mention of it. “So we thought, What a great study!”

Death wish or life wish?

In 1920, famous psychologist Sigmund Freud published Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where he writes about the “opposition between the ego or death instincts and the sexual or life instincts”, namely the so-called “death drive”. Practically, Freud says, some people wish for death and that some suicides are purely impulsive, absent any sign of depression or even sadness.The assumption of the existence of an instinct of death or destruction has been met with resistance even in analytic circles, and to this day Freud’s theory has remained highly controversial. But the “jump off the bridge” sensation poses an interesting connection, so the Florida State researchers delved deeper.

The team surveyed 431 college students, asking them about urges to jump from high places and thoughts of suicide. Beforehand, the participants’ levels of depression, suicidal thoughts and their sensitivity to anxiety were measured. A third of the participants confessed they’d felt the urge to jump at least once. Those who had had suicidal thoughts were more likely to say “yes”, but even so half the participants who had never considered suicide also said they experienced the feeling. What’s going on? Is Freud right?

Not necessarily. The leading hypothesis is that those who experience this sort of sensation are actually misinterpreting their instincts. More precisely, the researchers believe the sensation arises when people become over anxious when faced with a potential danger (falling off a bridge), but become confused when they consciously find there’s no reason to be anxious about anything (you check the ledge, see that it’s sturdy, so what’s the problem?).

This conflict leads the person to believe that he actually wanted to jump and this is what sparked his survival instincts. If anything, the researchers conclude, the results suggest that people who experience this sort of feeling are actually expressing a will to live, not the other way around. This is definitely good news for me, but the conclusions are a bit speculative, to say the least. Other researchers who were not involved in the study believe the sensation could be caused by a number of things. The simplest explanation is that people are in it for the thrills.

Next, the researchers plan on placing participants (students of course) in a rooftop setting, measure their anxiety sensitivity and response, and further study the phenomenon. The present findings were reported in Journal of Affective Disorders.

Study shows that bullying and suicides in children may be connected


The Yale School of Medicine researchers conducted a study in 13 countries which lead to the conclusion that there may be a connection between school bullying and children who resort to suicide.
The lead author, Young-Shin Kim, part of the Yale research team, and her colleague, Bennett Leventhal, claim that the exact causality between the two phenomena could not be clearly determined, but both the victims and perpetrators are more likely to engage into such extreme acts. The researchers analyzed 37 studies conducted in the United States and Canada, and also in European and Asian countries (Germany, UK, Japan).
They all showed that children and teenagers affected by this phenomenon are from two to nine times more likely to think about suicide than the others. However, many other factors, such as gender, other suicide attempts, family situation and mental diseases should also be taken into consideration in these cases. This is why establishing the exact causality is a very difficult task.
Kim became more interested in bullying after a trip to South Korea, where she noticed that a special slang had been developed for it, which proved that bullying had extended much more than it may seem at first and that it had many forms of manifestation.
Studies show that from 9 to 54% of children are affected by this phenomenon and the implications are severe, many incidents including the Columbine High School massacre being attributed to it. These numbers can definitely not be ignored.
Although many adults don’t consider this problem to be one that should be taken into consideration as they believe is a normal aspect of coming of age, there may be a strong cause-effect relation between bullying and suicides at very young people. However, Kim wants to rule out any possibility of another cause before actually stating this, a cause that might make children more sensitive to both suicidal thoughts and bullying. She recommends that bullying victims should be talked to in order to discover any problems that might occur later. By taking the right measures, most severe incidents should be avoided easily.(ScienceDaily -July 19, 2008)