The influence of climate on suicidal behaviour in Italy

Psychiatry Res. 1998 Mar 20;78(1-2):9-19. doi: 10.1016/s0165-1781(97)00154-6.

Abstract

A growing number of studies report an asymmetry in the seasonal distribution of suicides, with a peak in the late spring months for both sexes. The aim of this study is to verify if the climate, apart from its seasonal change, exerts a direct influence on suicidal behaviour. To this end, deaths by suicide in 17 Italian towns which all have a meteorologic station have been analyzed, taking into account some climatic indicators. Results of analyses show an unequal distribution of suicides with respect to latitude, with a peak in the North. The distribution of deaths by suicide shows a negative relationship with mean yearly temperature values, max and min, and with sun exposure indicators, and a positive, but less significant relationship with rainfall values. As far as climatic variables considered as a whole are concerned, stepwise regression identifies three relevant factors with significant relationships to suicide rates: humidity grade, rainfall mean, and sunlight exposure. These three climatic indicators explain up to 63% (Adj R2) of the variance in the distribution of suicide rates for both genders, with sunlight exposure offering the most significant contribution, when regressed on suicide rates via a multiple regression model. Higher suicide rates, therefore, correspond to dry places which are less exposed to the sun. However, the variable which shows the most significant correlation with suicide rates for both sexes is not a climatic one, but the percentage of the population aged 65 and over. The distribution of people at greater biological risk for possible disruption of brain neurochemistry (i.e. older people), therefore, predicts the distribution of suicide rates. Climate contributes to this biological risk by modifying both the responsiveness of the circuits that control mood and behaviour, and also the frequency and intensity of social interaction.

MeSH terms

  • Climate*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Rain
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sunlight
  • Temperature
  • Topography, Medical*