Effects of sunshine on suicide rates
Seasonal spring peaks of suicide are well described in epidemiological studies, but their origin is poorly understood. More recent evidence suggests that this peak may be associated with the increase in the duration of sunshine in spring. We investigated the effect of number of sunshine hours per month on suicide rates in Austria between 1996 and 2006. Suicide data, differentiated by month of suicide, sex, and method of suicide (violent vs nonviolent methods), were provided by Statistics Austria. Data on the average number of sunshine hours per month were calculated from 39 representative meteorological stations (provided by the Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics). For statistical analysis, analysis of variance tests, Kruskal-Wallis tests, and Pearson correlation tests were used. A total of 16,673 suicides with a median of 126 ± 19.8 suicides per month occurred in the examined period. A clear seasonal pattern was observed, with suicide frequencies being highest between March and May and lowest between November and January (df = 11, F = 5.2, P < .0001) for men (df = 11, F = 4.9, P < .0001) and women (df = 11, F = 2.4, P = .008). The average number of sunshine hours per month was significantly correlated with the number of suicides among both sexes (r = .43, P < .0001), violent methods (r = .48, P < .0001) but not with nonviolent methods (r = .03, P = .707). This study shows that seasonal changes in sunshine account for variations in the number of suicides and especially violent suicides. We propose that sunshine, via interactions with serotonin neurotransmission, may trigger increased impulsivity and promote suicidal acts. However, because of the hypothesis-generating design of this study, more research is needed to further clarify the role of sunshine in triggering neurobiologic changes, which might contribute to suicidal behavior.