Suicide Prevention Month
Authored by: ICOY Trauma Specialist Heshima Mance and ICOY Trauma Intern Emily Waskowitz
As September comes to a close, the ICOY Trauma Team reflected upon Suicide Prevention Month leading into winter. According to World Health Organization (2019) 703,000 individuals commit suicide every year. The WHO also notes that suicide is preventable when people address issues, such as those related to mental health. Several forms of research indicate that suicide cases are higher during the spring season (Coimbra et al., 2019). However, fall is upon us and will soon follow with colder, winter months.
Winter and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
There is some analysis that the rates start peaking during the winter season. These dark, cold months often go hand-in-hand with depression, a prevalent mental illness. During the winter, some factors affect individuals and lead to suicidal thoughts. For example, many people are not as physically active and spend more time indoors. They may spend less time socializing and interacting with others. When some individuals are alone, they can begin to reflect on issues stored in the subconscious mind. Reflecting on negative experiences without the support of family, friends, community groups, or a therapist can open the opportunity for depression to set in.
Also known as winter depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression. For example, symptoms such as increased fatigue, change in sleep, loss of appetite, speech problems, and thoughts of death are similar to those of depression. SAD is typically triggered when there is less sunlight and tends to improve with the spring season (Munir & Abbas, 2021). Though SAD can interfere with normal functioning, treatment such as light therapy and a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy can be beneficial (Munir & Abbas, 2021).
For many, the winter season entails a season of celebrations. Holiday blues are feelings of sadness or loneliness. Another name given to this is holiday depression (Willis, 2019). The several causes of holiday blues may be financial stress, unrealistic expectations, lack of sleep, and even isolation or loneliness. Young people may reflect on the financial goals they have in efforts to keep up with peers. A primary caregiver may not have the means to fulfill holiday wish list, thus mentally making it difficult to tolerate societal/peer pressure, creating insecurities, sadness, and possibly depression. As winter eases into spring, it is important to check-in with one’s mental health. If there are still obstacles to functioning on a daily basis, it might be beneficial to seek additional help (Willis, 2019).
Across all demographics, suicide rates have a highly replicated peak in spring. During winter, high risk factors for depression and suicidal ideology begin and can trigger this peak. Some of the social determinants of health relating to suicide are economic instability, mental illness, and family factors. During winter, these factors are exacerbated through higher living expenses, holiday spending, SAD, and simply spending more time with one’s family. While suicide is not uncommon among all demographics, it ranks as the second leading cause of death in youth between the ages of 15-19, making them the most at-risk age range. One of the leading risk factors for youth suicide is social isolation, and the wintertime often creates circumstances which separate youth from peers through school vacations.
Suicide Among Youth
Winter poses an additional threat to youth within the LGBTQIA+ community. Suicide disproportionately affects this community. By spending more time at home and with family members who may not be accepting of them, the winter months and holiday season heighten the risk for social isolation among queer youth. In addition, LGBTQIA+ youth are also experiencing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic; a recent survey by the Trevor Project documented that 42% of LGBTQ youth who responded reported that they seriously considered suicide in the past year (Trevor Project, 2021.)
Knowing potential determinants behind suicide risk is certainly beneficial, but how can youth suicide actually be prevented? Much of this lies in upstream prevention methods, or targeting the larger scale issues which can lead to suicide. Experts have found that one of the biggest ways to target youth suicide is through programs which increase social interconnectedness. During the winter months, this could be through after-school programs, indoor sports, or even making sure that the young people in your life are staying connected with their peers.
Moving even further upstream, social determinants such as economic instability and mental illness highly impact suicide rates. Prevention interventions for these factors are more complex, as these are commonly influenced by systematic issues such as racism and healthcare inequities. If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or suicidal ideology, know that you are not alone. Listed with this post are several national and state-specific resources to assist those who are at risk for suicide.
- 800-273-8255 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours in English, Spanish
- Text “TALK” to 741741 – Text Line for Suicide Prevention
- The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health
- Elyssa’s Mission
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Hope for the Day
- Nick’s Network of Hope
- Safe2Help IL Toolkit
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – IL Chapter
- IDPH – Suicide Prevention
- The Depression Project (Instagram Account)