AsianScientist (May 16, 2023) –Global warming kills people in many ways: with the increase in 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 quietly pushing people towards suicide.
When you think of climate change and suicides, you may think of farmers who have lost their crops and cannot get out of debt traps. But simply living in sub-optimal temperatures can also affect 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 considered divorced from each other.
“As the climate changes, the burden of temperature-related suicide deaths is expected to increase, emphasizing the importance of addressing mental health issues in the context of climate change,” said Renjie Chen, one of co-authors and researcher from Fudan University. he told Asian Scientist magazine.
For the study, the authors analyzed data on 432,008 suicide deaths between 2013 and 2019 in mainland China. These data, collected from China’s national death registry, were annotated with the date, demographic information, and residential address. These data were compared to high-resolution satellite data that allowed the researchers to pinpoint hourly temperature in a square grid of approximately 10 kilometers on each side. For each death, the researchers were able to reconstruct the weather at that time and place.
The researchers defined non-optimal temperature as a significant deviation from the temperature at which fewer deaths occurred. In this way, they could attribute the excess deaths to high temperatures not only on days with non-optimal temperatures, but also on the days that followed. This analysis was conducted at different levels, from counties and regions to the entire country.
Of all suicide deaths between 2013 and 2019, the researchers found that 15.2% could be attributed to high temperatures. Excess deaths were most prominently seen among the elderly and those educated to high school or below.
The researchers also simulated how the suicide burden will grow if temperatures continue to rise as predicted. They predicted excessive numbers of suicide deaths as, and particularly on days when temperatures rise. The researchers predict that the risk of suicide is expected to be higher in southern China and during winter.
This study highlights the importance of aligning climate change with suicide prevention, in particular, and public health, in general. As the study points out, climate change is not only making things more difficult for those fighting mental health, but it is further affecting certain demographic groups in this regard. Rather than blanket guidelines for suicide prevention, there needs to be precise interventions targeted at vulnerable people of different demographics, the study says.
Future research should look at the mechanisms that govern the impact of suboptimal temperatures on mental health. This could pave the way to identify factors that reduce individual vulnerability and provide quantitative tools to study how effective suicide mitigation interventions are in preventing these excess deaths.
“We are actively working on follow-up studies to further investigate the complex relationship between climate change, mental health, and suicide,” Chen added.
Fountain: Fudan University ; Image: Shelly Liew/Asian Scientist Magazine
The document can be found at: Assessment of the burden of death by suicide associated with non-optimal temperature in a changing climate
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.