A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam and Harvard University, has shed light on the timing and seasonality of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Published in the journal Nature Translational Psychiatry, the study found that December is the month when individuals in the US, UK, and Canada are most likely to experience suicidal thoughts, while the early morning hours between 4 am and 6 am are the highest risk period for suicide.
Contrary to popular belief that suicide rates are highest during the winter months, the study revealed that suicidal behaviors actually peak in the spring or early summer, a finding that has puzzled researchers for some time. The researchers analyzed data collected over a six-year period from over 10,000 participants using the Project Implicit Health Database. The participants completed questionnaires and tasks related to their moods, thoughts, and ideations surrounding suicide and self-harm.
The study also uncovered a gradual increase in negative self-harm cognitions and seasonality effects on mood and desire to die. The researchers developed a conceptual model suggesting that suicidal behavior takes a few months to reach a “tipping point.” The findings showed that suicidal thoughts and mood are at their worst in December and improve significantly by June. The period between these two points represents a heightened risk of suicidal behavior, as the gradual improvement in mood and energy may provide individuals with the capacity to plan and engage in suicide attempts.
The study employed online tasks to examine the temporal dynamics of explicit and implicit self-harm cognitions. Explicit cognition was assessed through direct questions about mood, suicide, and self-harm, while implicit cognition was explored through a reaction time task involving sorting words related to the self in relation to death and life.
According to Brian O’Shea, the lead researcher from the University of Nottingham, this study is the first to examine temporal trends in mood and self-harm thoughts on such a large scale, pinpointing specific times when interventions could be most beneficial.
These findings provide valuable insights into the patterns and timing of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, which can inform the development of targeted prevention strategies and interventions to better support individuals during their most vulnerable periods.