Worst time of year and day for surveyed suicidal thoughts and behavior

Researchers have identified December as the month when people in the US, UK and Canada are most likely to have suicidal thoughts, and the hours between 4am and 6am when they are most likely to commit suicide.

They also found that these thoughts occurred a few months before the peak of suicidal behavior in spring or early summer.

The study, conducted by the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham (UK) in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Harvard University (USA), examined the seasonal pathways of suicidal ideation and identified when suicidal ideation peaks during the year and what any time of day these thoughts are at their worst.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Translational Psychiatry.

While most people assume that suicide rates are highest in winter, it has been found that suicidal behavior is highest in spring or early summer — a finding that has puzzled researchers since their initial discovery.

In this study, the researchers also found an overall increase in negative self-harm cognition and seasonal effects on mood and desire to die over the six-year period collecting responses from over 10,000 people. Subjects completed questionnaires and tasks about their moods, thoughts, and beliefs about suicide and self-harm using the Project Implicit Health Database (PIH).

They also developed a conceptual model of why it takes a few months for suicidal behavior to reach a ‘tipping point’.

“The reasons for this are complex, but our research shows that suicidal thoughts and mood are at their worst in December and at their best in June.”

“Between these two points there is an increased risk of suicidal behavior, and we believe this happens because gradually improving their mood and energy might allow them to plan and execute a suicide attempt.”

“The relative comparison between perceived faster improvements in one’s own mood and the mood of others are complementary possibilities that require further testing,” said Brian O’Shea of ​​the University of Nottingham, who led the study.

Online tasks were created to examine the temporal dynamics of explicit and implicit self-harm cognitions, where explicit cognitions were assessed through direct questions about mood, suicide, and self-harm using a standard scale of 1 to 5.

Implicit cognition was examined using a reaction time task in which participants had to sort words related to themselves with death and life words in real time.

Respondents in the sample fell into three groups: (1) previous suicide attempts; (2) suicidal thoughts and/or non-suicidal self-harm; (3) no prior self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or behavior.

The results show a reaction time between the peak of explicit and implicit suicidal cognition in winter and the peak of suicide attempts and suicide deaths in spring.

The peak of explicit suicidal cognition in December preceded the implicit association of self-harm, which peaked in February. Both peaks precede the peak of suicidal behavior in spring or early summer. Similar delayed effects were observed over a 24-hour period, with explicit suicidal cognition and mood peaking at 4-5 a.m. and implicit cognition lagging behind this peak.

O’Shea said, “This study is the first to examine temporal trends around mood and thoughts of self-harm on such a large scale and truly pinpoint the times when an intervention might be most beneficial.”

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/science/worst-time-of-year-and-day-for-suicidal-thoughts-and-behaviours-examined/article66842041.ece Worst time of year and day for surveyed suicidal thoughts and behavior

Russell Falcon

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