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Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages723729 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Linkages between climate and mental health are often theorized but remain poorly quantified. In particular, it is unknown whether the rate of suicide, a leading cause of death globally, is systematically affected by climatic conditions. Using comprehensive data from multiple decades for both the United States and Mexico, we find that suicide rates rise 0.7% in US counties and 2.1% in Mexican municipalities for a 1 °C increase in monthly average temperature. This effect is similar in hotter versus cooler regions and has not diminished over time, indicating limited historical adaptation. Analysis of depressive language in >600 million social media updates further suggests that mental well-being deteriorates during warmer periods. We project that unmitigated climate change (RCP8.5) could result in a combined 9–40 thousand additional suicides (95% confidence interval) across the United States and Mexico by 2050, representing a change in suicide rates comparable to the estimated impact of economic recessions, suicide prevention programmes or gun restriction laws.

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Acknowledgements

M.B., S.H.N. and S.B. thank the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment for partial funding. We also thank T. Miguel and T. Carleton for helpful discussion and comments.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

    • Marshall Burke
  2. Center on Food Security and the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

    • Marshall Burke
    •  & Sam Heft-Neal
  3. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Marshall Burke
    •  & Solomon Hsiang
  4. Instituto de Economía, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

    • Felipe González
  5. Department of Economics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    • Patrick Baylis
  6. Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Ceren Baysan
  7. Department of Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

    • Sanjay Basu
  8. Global Policy Laboratory, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Solomon Hsiang

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Contributions

M.B., P.B., S.B. and S.H. designed the study, M.B., C.B., F.G., S.H.N. and P.B. analysed data, and M.B., P.B., S.H.N., S.B. and S.H. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marshall Burke.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0222-x