Last month’s double suicide on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge offers a strong reminder that suicide deaths start climbing in the spring, even though a widespread myth persists that numbers are higher during winter months.
Experts can only hypothesize why suicides peak during warmer months of the year and they continue looking for concrete answers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 41,000 people in the United States will die from suicide this year.
Some scientists believe the uptick in the spring may be explained by a possible link between springtime inflammation and depression.
“It’s puzzling because we certainly know there is a connection between the two. But we don’t know if depression comes first and causes the inflammation or if the inflammation leads to depression,” said Constance Guille, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
The correlation between the two is also supported by an August 2015 paper by American and Scandinavian researchers on the role of inflammation in suicidal behavior. The report’s authors recommend that doctors “establish whether any underlying potentially treatable condition is present in patients presenting with suicidal ideation or history of suicidal behavior.”
Another 2013 study found “a significant association between suicide risk and air pollen counts” in Denmark.
Scientists have conjectured, but can’t prove yet, that the link between suicides and spring allergies may be explained by the release of cytokines, small proteins secreted by cells.
Authors of the 2013 study noted that the secretion of these cytokines, triggered by pollen, can have “depressogenic and prosuicidal effects and thus affect individuals susceptible to allergy, depression and suicide.”
Robert Breen, the medical chief at
Bryan Psychiatric Hospital Acute Services in Columbia, said higher suicide numbers in spring, summer and early fall could also be connected to those who suffer from bipolar disorder. While an increase in sunlight in the spring can help symptoms of depression for many patients, Breen said sunlight can have an adverse effect for those who are bipolar.
“There’s still so much unknown about it. But if I was a betting man, I’d say bipolar disorder has a lot to do with the spring numbers,” Breen said.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 and the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, according to the CDC. Nationwide, numbers from the CDC show that Wyoming tops the list in suicide rates.
South Carolina reported 480 suicide deaths in 2014, including 27 in Charleston County, 13 in Berkeley County and 14 in Dorchester County. Overall, South Carolina only ranks 27th in the nation, but suicide prevention is still a priority for state officials.
“We have to address suicide as a public health issue, not just a mental health issue,” said Alex Karydi, the program director of the state’s Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative.
The initiative falls under the state’s Department of Mental Health. The department recently received a five-year $3.68 million grant that Karydi said will be used to create a facility in Columbia to offer counseling and other prevention services. The goal is to reach 300,000 children and adults and to screen 30,000 of them, Karydi said.
“We need to reach a large number of people and this grant will help us do that,” Karydi said.
The CDC outlines several warning signs of suicide, including depression, moodiness, anger, withdrawal and loss of appetite. Those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts are urged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255.
Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.