Myth – the rate of suicide goes up in the winter.
Fact – the suicide rate goes up in the spring.
This reality seems counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t Spring the time when we can at last go outside and bask, hike, eat, camp, bike, walk, bird-watch and all that in the radiance and warmth of the glowing sun?
Scientists have puzzled over this for years. Many possible explanations abound, including highly physiological ones, such as one proposing that an inflammatory response may be the cause.
There is good reason to pursue these ideas, but there could be a combination of effects, as is so often the case in behavioral health. As a social worker with a background in suicide prevention hotlines, I have heard countless people talk about how they feel more “themselves” on cloudy days and how the sunny days of Spring often leave them feeling depressed. It has often seemed to me that the outside “mood” of rainy weather was more compatible with their internal states of mind. This compatibility seemed to be comforting to them. The coming of Spring, however, seemed jarring to their internal state. They talked more about wanting meaningful relationships – and they seemed to perceive that everyone else had them. “After all,” they would point out, “look at all the couples walking hand-in-hand out there. Look at all the families having picnics.”
In the winter – especially during the holidays – the radio waves and social media outlets are full of messages of hope and compassion for those who are struggling. Hence a person feeling outside of the mainstream knows that he/she has company. Not so in Spring. This season is expected to cure our emotional woes. For many people who struggle through depression, this unfulfilled promise is deeply disappointing and may trigger thoughts of earlier let-downs.
How can we help our loved ones feel better when they seem not to join the celebration of Spring? First, it helps simply to recognize that we don’t all react the same way to the new season. Second, showing someone that you’ve noticed their struggle, and by extension that you’ve noticed them, can make a huge difference. A gentle invitation (without advice) to take a walk, or perhaps to do something indoors like going out for lunch, can make a difference. Any way that you can show this person in your life that you notice them, see their struggle, and want to help in a way that’s comfortable for them will go a long way. If you’re feeling pushed aside when you do this, then it might be helpful for you to find some professional support and guidance on how best to assist.
At MHA we offer lots of support to individuals who are living through behavioral health challenges. We also assist their families and friends. Most of that help is free. For more information, please call us at 845-267-2172, x296.