Profs warn that climate change may cause surge in suicides

The researchers analyzed more than half a billion tweets, finding that words like “lonely,” “trapped,” and “suicidal” are more prevalent when temperatures are higher.

A new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University and UC Berkeley predicts that "unmitigated climate change" will lead to between 9,000 and 40,000 additional suicide deaths in the U.S. and Mexico by 2050.

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley predict that climate change will “likely boost suicide rates worldwide.”

The new study, published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, “found very strong evidence that abnormally hot weather increases both suicide rates and the use of depressive language on social media,” lead author Marshall Burke told Berkeley News.

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This, the researchers say, can be extended to form the conjecture that “unmitigated climate change” could lead to between 9,000 and 40,000 additional suicides in the United States and Mexico combined by 2050. According to the scholars, this difference is comparable to the estimated impact of economic recessions, suicide prevention programmes, or gun restriction laws.

“That’s an increase of several percentage points over rates today, which are actually rising as other causes of death decline,” UC Berkeley points out in its coverage of the study.

According to co-author Solomon Hsiang, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, the research “may be the first decisive evidence that climate change will have a substantial effect on mental health in the United States and Mexico, with tragic human costs.” 

“We’ve been studying the effects of warming on conflict and violence for years, finding that people fight more when it’s hot. Now we see that in addition to hurting others, some individuals hurt themselves,” Hsiang added. “It appears that heat profoundly affects the human mind and how we decide to inflict harm.”

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While the researchers concede that there are many factors contributing to people’s overall risk of suicide, and that temperature alone is probably not a main motivation, they contend that temperature likely influences the way people perceive their own situation, which in turn could cause them to act differently than they otherwise would.

“When talking about climate change, it’s often easy to think in abstractions,” Burke noted. “But the thousands of additional suicides that are likely to occur as a result of unmitigated climate change are not just a number, they represent tragic losses for families across the country.”

According to Stanford News, the team analyzed the language of more than half a billion tweets, finding that words like “lonely,” “trapped,” and “suicidal” are more prevalent when temperatures are higher, even among “rich populations” and those who “are used to warm weather.”

They then used global climate models to calculate that the projected increase in global temperatures by 2050 could increase suicide rates by 1.4 percent in the U.S. and 2.3 percent in Mexico.

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