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.