Content Warning: This article contains information about mental illness and suicide.
Contrary to popular belief — according to Adam Kaplin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at John Hopkins — recent studies show that suicide rates actually peak in the spring rather than the winter.
“In April, May and June, the suicide rate goes up and is the highest," Kaplin said. "Those numbers can be two to three times higher than in December, when suicide rates are the lowest.”
According to Aneri Pattani from the Philadelphia Inquirer, these springtime statistics are not a fluke. Pattani stated that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, data consistently shows how suicide rates peak amidst the warmer weather, with the peak being between March and August.
While it is scientifically proven that suicide rates heighten in the spring and summer months, Chris Hanes, director of Iowa State Student Counseling Services, warns that people are at risk of experiencing suicidal ideation at any time of the year.
“Our work in this area emphasizes a year-round approach to supporting students by creating suicide prevention programs and accessible services on campus,” Hanes said. “The semester schedules bring predictable periods of high stress for students, and we want to be available for students during these times.”
Hanes also wants to preface that college students are not the only ones at risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
“It’s helpful to consider that anyone can struggle with suicidal thoughts, and being in a period of prolonged, multiple pandemics and high stress have increased the rate of these concerns in the general population,” Hanes said.
With all things considered, many people are still questioning why suicide rates rise in the spring.
Kaplin argues that environmental factors, such as geography, climate change and pollution, are partly to blame.
“A number of studies say that even when you remove seasonality from the equation, with 10 hot days in a row, you have higher rates of suicide,” Kaplin said.
Another theory as to why suicide rates are highest in the spring is due to seasonal allergies.
“Overwhelming evidence suggests that inflammation from various sources, including allergic reactions, can cause or worsen depression,” Kaplin said.
Pattani shared similar research. According to her research, inflammation due to seasonal allergies not only affects the nose, throat and eyes but affects the brain as well.
“Inflammation in the brain has been linked to mood disorders, with studies showing patients on medications that increase inflammation … are more likely to develop depression and suicidal thoughts even without a prior history of mental illness,” Pattani said.
Pattani continued to say springtime is especially stressful for students with it being the end of the academic year.
“College is a time of stress and transition, and these challenges can impact their mental health, which can be associated with thoughts of suicide,” Hanes added.
When asked what behaviors, attitudes or stressors friends and family can look out for in order to prevent their loved ones from experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, Hanes advised individuals to remain aware of how their loved ones are expressing themselves.
“Being aware of warning signs of distress and knowing ways to express care, support and knowledge about resources are important considerations,” Hanes said. “In general, increased expressions of hopelessness, statements about suicide and increased isolation are examples of warning signs.”
Hanes also noted that Iowa State Student Counseling Services collaborated with the Provost office to create resources that outline how to identify dangerous behaviors and tendencies.
Hanes also recommends that anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts, ideation or tendencies to turn to your community and seek support. He also suggests attending a form of therapy, which is free for Iowa State students.
Iowa State Student Counseling Services and Student Wellness also offer multiple free training programs on how to prevent suicide, such as Kognito, Campus Connect and RESPOND.
SCS CRISIS SERVICES: Available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday during Student Counseling Services business hours
CRISIS TEXT LINE: Text ISU to 741741
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE 800-273-TALK (8255)