Everyone’s heard of the “winter blues,” the phenomenon where some people get more depressed during the wintertime (also called seasonal affective disorder). What most people don’t know is that seasonal affective disorder can occur during any season, including the summer.
A new study suggests that the suicide peak during the summertime in Greenland may be related to insomnia caused by the nonstop daylight experienced by residents of the island country.
Karin Sparring Björkstén from the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, led a team of researchers who studied the seasonal variation of suicides in all of Greenland from 1968-2002. They found that there was a concentration of suicides in the summer months, and that this seasonal effect was especially pronounced in the north of the country — an area where the sun doesn’t set between the end of April and the end of August.
“In terms of seasonal light variation, Greenland is the most extreme human habitat,” Björkstén said.
“Greenland also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. We found that suicides were almost exclusively violent and increased during periods of constant day. In the north of the country, 82 percent of the suicides occurred during the daylight months (including astronomical twilight).”
The researchers found that most suicides occurred in young men and that violent methods, such as shooting, hanging and jumping, accounted for 95 percent of all suicides.
No seasonal variation in alcohol consumption was found.
The authors speculate that light-generated imbalances in turnover of the neurotransmitter serotonin may lead to increased impulsiveness that, in combination with lack of sleep, may explain the increased suicide rates in the summer.
“People living at high latitudes need extreme flexibility in light adaptation,” noted the researchers. “During the long periods of constant light, it is crucial to keep some circadian rhythm to get enough sleep and sustain mental health. A weak serotonin system may cause difficulties in adaptation.”
“Light is just one of many factors in the complex tragedy of suicide, but this study shows that there is a possible relationship between the two.”
The study appears online in BMC Psychiatry, an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in all aspects of the prevention, diagnosis and management of psychiatric disorders, as well as related molecular genetics, pathophysiology, and epidemiology.
Source: BMC Psychiatry