Background Nearly 800,000 suicides occur worldwide annually and suicide rates are increasing faster than population growth. Unfortunately, the pathophysiology of suicide remains poorly understood, which has hindered suicide prevention efforts. However, mechanistic clues may be found by studying effects of seasonality on suicide and other mortality causes. Suicides tend to peak in spring-summer periods and nadir in fall-winter periods while circulatory system disease-related mortality tends to exhibit the opposite temporal trends. This study aimed to determine for the first time whether monthly temporal cross-correlations exist between suicide and circulatory system disease-related mortality at the population level. If so and if common biological factors moderate risks for both mortality types, such factors may be discoverable and utilized to improve suicide prevention.
Methods We conducted time series analyses of monthly mortality data from northern (England and Wales, South Korea, United States) and southern (Australia, Brazil) hemisphere countries during the period 2009-2018 (N=41.8 million all-cause mortality cases). We used a Poisson regression variant of the standard cosinor model to determine cross-correlations between monthly mortality rates from suicide and from circulatory system diseases.
Results Suicide and circulatory disease-related mortality temporal patterns were negatively correlated in Australia (-0.32), Brazil (-0.57), South Korea (-0.32), and in the United States (-0.66), but no temporal correlation was discernable in England and Wales.
Conclusions The negative temporal cross-correlations between these mortality types we found in 4 of 5 countries studied suggest that seasonal factors broadly and inversely moderate risks for circulatory disease-related mortality and suicide. Since the seasonal factors of temperature and light exert opposite effects on suicide and circulatory disease-related mortality in several countries, we propose that physiologically-adaptive circulatory system responses to heat and light may increase risk for suicide and should be studied to determine whether they affect suicide risk. For example, heat and light increase production and release of the bioactive gas nitric oxide and reduce circulatory system disease by relaxing blood vessel tone, while elevated nitric oxide levels are associated with suicidal behavior, inverse effects that parallel the inverse temporal mortality patterns we detected.