Droughts May Increase Suicide Risk

Rural suicides for men increase slightly during periods of drought

(RxWiki News) The recent droughts across the U.S. have meant big losses in crops for many farmers. Less visible, however, is the possible strain on these farmers' mental health.

A recent study out of Australia has found a link between periods of higher drought and higher suicide rates.

The uptick in suicide risk during droughts is small, but it's enough to pay attention to.

"Suicide is never the answer. Call 1-800-273-8255."

The study, led by Ivan C. Hanigan, of the National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University's Research School of Population Health, aimed to determine whether the risk of suicides in rural areas was greater during the various drought cycles that Australia has seen in the past four decades.

The researchers looked at data from 1970 to 2007 for suicides that occurred in the Australian state of New South Wales, which they compared to droughts during that time.

They found that there was a 15 percent greater risk that men aged 30 to 49 would commit suicide when the index for droughts rose from two quartiles - which means when the droughts were classified in the worst half of historical trends.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of committing suicide actually decline for women under 30 years old as the severity of droughts increased.

The researchers also noticed that suicides were overall greater in the spring and early summer - a link that has been seen in many other studies previously even though scientists are unsure why it exists.

The authors cautioned that the increased risk for suicide during droughts and in the spring should be taken into account along with other complex factors that can contribute to a person's overall risk of committing suicide.

"Suicide is a complex phenomenon with many interacting social, environmental, and biological causal factors," they wrote. "The relationship between drought and suicide is best understood using a holistic framework."

However, the researchers also pointed out that the relationship between droughts and increased risk of suicide may become more important to follow as climate change likely leads to more droughts.

"Elucidating the relationships between drought and mental health will help facilitate adaptation to climate change," they wrote.

The study was published August 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Information regarding funding was unavailable. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 13, 2012