Drawing on data from two decades of research in the United States and Mexico, new research published in the journal Nature suggests that increases in temperature correlate positively to increases in suicide rates. The research indicates that suicides, a leading cause of death worldwide, are linked to higher temperatures for a number of reasons both physiological and environmental. Hotter temperatures place increased stress on the body, taxing the thermoregulatory systems and inducing the release of the hormone commonly associated with stress, cortisol, while also disrupting sleep and physical activity routines. These, in addition to other physiological stresses are compounded by the circumstantial effects felt by people in warmer climates, namely disease, drought, and conflict.
This research posits that an increase of 1 °C will result in a .7% increase in US suicide rates and a 2.1% increase in Mexico suicide rates. This, added to the nearly 1 million people who die of suicide annually around the world, represents a chief human health concern now and in the future. Human settlements are clustered near the equator where temperatures are relatively warm and as with other environmental issues, the increased risks will most likely be felt disproportionately among lower income groups. People with lower incomes will feel this temperature stress more, as they will not be able to insulate themselves from exposure to the problems of increased temperature with air-conditioners, ample food supply, mobility, etc,. Other than doubling our efforts to reduce climate warming, what can we do to mitigate the increased suicides? What types of support systems and solutions will be necessary to deal with self-harm as a leading health risk to humans? Could these findings drive further investment into climate change mitigation and will we see more funds assigned to public health be allocated to climate resilience?