AsianScientist (May. 16, 2023) –Global warming kills people in many ways—with increasing natural disasters ranging from wildfires and heat waves to floods, with disease outbreaks, and with alarmingly high levels of air pollution and related diseases. New research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry shows that warmer temperatures are also silently pushing people towards suicide.
When you think of climate change and suicides, you may think of farmers who have lost their crops and are not able to get out of debt traps. But simply living in less than optimal temperatures can also take a toll on people’s mental health. Researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Shandong University, and Fudan University have quantified this impact, establishing a link between high temperatures and increased risk of suicide.
The main takeaway: Climate change-induced global warming and mental health cannot be looked at as being divorced from each other.
“As the climate changes, the burden of temperature-related suicide death is expected to rise, emphasizing the importance of addressing mental health concerns in the context of climate change,” Renjie Chen, one of the co-authors and a researcher at Fudan University, told Asian Scientist Magazine.
For the study, the authors analyzed data on 432,008 deaths from suicide between 2013 and 2019 in mainland China. Collected from the national death registry of China, this data was annotated with date, demographic information, and residential address. These data were compared with high resolution satellite data that allowed the researchers to pinpoint the hourly temperature down to a square grid of roughly 10 kilometres on each side. For each death, the researchers were able to reconstruct the weather at that point in time and place.
The researchers defined non-optimum temperature as a significant deviation from the temperature at which fewest deaths occurred. This way they could attribute excessive deaths to high temperatures not just on the days with non-optimum temperatures, but also on the couple of days that followed. This analysis was done at different levels ranging from counties and regions to the whole country.
Of all the suicide deaths between 2013 and 2019, the researchers found that 15.2% could be attributed to high temperatures. The excessive deaths were seen more prominently among elderly and those educated until middle school or lower.
The researchers also simulated how the burden of suicide will grow if the temperatures continue to rise as they are projected to be. They predicted excessive suicide deaths as, and particularly around days when, temperatures soar. The researchers predict that the suicide risk is expected to be higher in south China and during the winter.
This study stresses the importance of aligning climate change with suicide prevention, in particular, and public health, in general. As the study points out, not only does climate change make things difficult for those struggling with mental health, it impacts certain demographics even more in this regard. Instead of blanket suicide prevention guidelines, there need to be precise interventions aimed at vulnerable people of different demographics, says the study.
Future research should look into the mechanisms that govern the impact of non-optimum temperatures on mental health. This could potentially pave the way to identifying factors that reduce individual vulnerability as well as provide quantitative tools to study how effective suicide mitigation interventions are at preventing these excessive deaths.
“We are actively working on follow-up studies to further investigate the complex relationship between climate change, mental health, and suicide,” Chen added.
Source: Fudan University ; Image: Shelly Liew/Asian Scientist Magazine
The paper can be found at: Assessing the Burden of Suicide Death Associated With Nonoptimum Temperature in a Changing Climate
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