Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico

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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Fig. 1: Effects of temperature on suicide rate.
Fig. 2: Effect of variation in temperature on monthly suicide rate across the full sample in the United States, Mexico and for sub-groups in those countries.
Fig. 3: Temperature effects on suicide over time and space.
Fig. 4: Effect of monthly temperature on the likelihood that a Twitter update in US metropolitan areas contains depressive keywords.
Fig. 5: Change in suicide rate, and cumulative excess suicides, by 2050 due to projected temperature change in RCP8.5.

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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Marshall Burke.

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Burke, M., González, F., Baylis, P. et al. Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico. Nature Clim Change 8, 723–729 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0222-x

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