Increasing heat could drive up the number of suicides

It has long been noted that the number of suicides increases during “warmer months.”  But why?  What is the role of higher temperatures?

Recent research that analyzed “decades of historical data” “concluded that 1 degree C increases in monthly average temperatures increase suicide rates by 0.7 percent in the United States and 2.1 percent in Mexico.”

While these percentages are small, the consequences are large.  With projections of surface temperature increases of 2.1 to 2.5 degrees C by 2050 in North America, this could mean “9,000 to 40,000 additional suicides.”

Why?  One hypothesis is thermoregulation–blood flow in the brain changes “as the body works to maintain its temperature within a certain range.”  That is, high temperatures are tied to mental well-being.

Following this lead, researchers “analyzed data from more than 600 million geotagged Twitter posts” and found that as the monthly average temperature increases, the use of “depressive language in tweets” also increases.  “Mental well-being deteriorates during warmer periods.”

More and more research is finding that “climate change will have wide-ranging impacts on human health and well-being.”  “It appears that heat profoundly affects the human mind and how we decide to inflict harm.”

Read the article (James Temple, MIT Technology Review, July 23, 2018).

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