Research pinpoints the month when people have the strongest suicidal thoughts


New research has identified the month in which people have the strongest suicidal thoughts, and that these thoughts occur a few months before the peak of suicidal behavior in the spring/early summer. It also showed the daily peak in suicidal ideation between 4-5 am.

Most people assume suicide rates will be highest in the winter, but spring/early summer is when suicidal behaviours The peak and this discovery has puzzled researchers since they were first identified.

A study from the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, led in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam and Harvard University, examined seasonal pathways to suicidal ideation and determined when suicidal thoughts Peak during the year and what time of day these thoughts are worse. The results have been published in the journal Nature transitive Psychiatry.

Over the course of six years, responses were collected from more than 10,000 people in the UK, US and Canada who completed questionnaires and tasks about their mood, thoughts and ideas about suicide and self-harm using the Project’s Implicit Health (PIH) database.

The researchers, Brian O’Shea and Renee Frishel, have shown that suicidal thoughts are, in fact, highest in winter (December), and have developed a conceptual model for why suicidal behavior takes a few months to reach a ‘tipping point’. They also found that the hours from 4 am to 6 am are when people are most likely to commit suicide. In addition, they found an overall increase in negative perceptions of self-harm over the six-year study period.

Dr Brian O’Shea of ​​the University of Nottingham led the study and explained: “It is well documented that winter is a time when people with mental health issues may experience low mood and depression, and in fact seasonal affective disorder is a known problem related to the change in season affecting It may therefore come as a surprise that spring, the time when you assume people’s moods improve, is actually the time of year when people are most at risk of suicide.The reasons for this are complex, but our research shows that thoughts and moods Suicidal is worst in December and best in June.Between these two points, there is an increased risk of suicidal behaviour, and we feel that this occurs because gradual improvements in their mood and energy may enable them to plan and engage in a suicide attempt.The relative comparison between self and others’ moods that improves at a greater rate is Supplement possibilities need further testing.

Online tasks were created to examine the temporal dynamics of explicit and implicit self-harm perception, examining explicit perception via direct questions about mood, suicidality, and self-harm using a 1-5 standard scale. Implicit cognition was explored with a reaction time task in which people were asked to sort self-related words in real time using the words death and life.

The participants in the sample were from three groups: (1) those who had previously attempted suicide; (2) suicidal ideation and/or non-suicidal self-harm; (iii) no self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or previous behaviors). The researchers found an overall increase in negative perceptions of self-harm across the six years and seasonal effects on mood and desire to die, particularly among those who had previously attempted suicide.

The results show a lag between peaks in explicit and implicit cognitions of suicide in the winter and peaks in suicide attempts and suicide deaths in the spring. Explicit awareness of suicide that peaked in December was preceded by associations of implicit self-harm, which peaked in February. Both of these peaks precede the peak of suicidal behavior in the spring/early summer. Similar delayed effects were observed in the 24-h period, with overt suicidal cognition and mood peaking at 4–5 am and implicit cognition later than this peak.

This study is the first to look at temporal trends around thoughts of mood and self-harm on a large scale and identify times when an intervention could be most beneficial.”

Dr Brian O’Shea, University of Nottingham


Journal reference:

Freichel, R., & O’Shea, BA (2023). Suicidality and mood: the influence of trends, seasons, days of the week, and time of day on explicit and implicit cognition among an online community sample. Translational Psychiatry.


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