How Heatwaves Are Linked To An Increase In Australian Suicide Rates

How Heatwaves Are Linked To An Increase In Australian Suicide Rates A spike in suicides linked to spikes in heat.

Heatwaves and high temperatures can have a dramatic impact on people’s physical health. We only have to look at the increases in emergency department admissions during recent heatwaves to know that.

But not many people realise that high variations in temperatures can also impact our mental health.

For my PhD thesis I studied the socio-environmental drivers of suicide rates in Australia from 1986 to 2005. I found that sudden spikes in average temperatures can be attributed as a risk factor for suicide in some cities.

When examining the association between increased temperatures and increased suicide rates, higher temperature increases between neighbouring months were associated with suicide over time in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart.

For example, in Sydney and Brisbane, when the difference of the monthly average temperature in one month compared with the previous one month increased by 1 degree Celsius, there was a 3% increase in suicide in both of these cities.

Thus, higher temperatures in Brisbane and Sydney were shown to lead to higher suicide rates.

Crunching the data

Based on Australia’s climate, the high risk seasons for suicide are spring and early summer. Over the two decade period of my study there were 28,501 suicide cases reported from eight capital cities.

The largest number of suicides were in Sydney (8,964) and Melbourne (7,701), while the fewest – based on population sizes – were in Canberra (711), Hobart (602) and Darwin (348).

But Darwin, Australia’s most northern and only tropical capital city, also had the highest suicide rate (17.08 per 100,000 annual average) among all of the cities on average.

This indicates that consistent high temperature is less significantly associated with high suicide in most capital cities. Rather it is the spikes in temperature (such as a 5 degree increase of temperature from October to November in Sydney), especially in cities in temperate climate zones, that are of concern.

In Darwin there was less temperature difference between months compared with other cities. Thus we did not find that spikes in temperature had significant associations with suicide, while temperature itself had significant association with suicide in Darwin, which may also be common in other tropical areas.

While I didn’t look at why this occurred, previous studies have shown temperature could be attributed to seasonal changes in physiological conditions of the body related to wellness and happiness.

Additional risk factors

When unemployment rates are added to the mix, suicide rates increased significantly. In Brisbane and Perth, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate was associated with a 5% risk of higher suicide, without heatwaves.

In months with an unemployment rate (higher than median value in the study period), the temperature difference between adjacent months had more of a significant association with suicide in Brisbane compared with months with an unemployment rate lower than median level in the study period.

In addition, areas (such as Mornington Shire in Queensland) with a higher Indigenous population had a higher suicide risk after 1996. This is partly due to the invasion of unhealthy lifestyles from other places and lack of healthcare and psychiatry supports.

So we now have three factors to consider. Temperature variation, unemployment and Indigenous population appear to be major drivers of suicide across local government areas, especially in recent years. This is based on the available data we collected and applied in this research.

The ultimate tri-effect of these factors still needs to be examined in future studies.

Suicide prevention strategies

The challenge now these factors have been identified is knowing how to react to them to prevent further suicides. As global climate change and any financial woes continue, it is vital to develop local interventions to reduce suicidal risk.

We need to understand the variations of suicide patterns over time, location, population groups and the possible reasons for these variations, in order to design more effective suicide control and prevention programs.

In Australia there are national programs dealing with suicide prevention. All states and territories have suicide control and prevention plans but few of them have considered the impact of environmental factors in suicide prevention programs, especially on climatic impacts.

There needs to be more attention to the potential for increased suicide risks posed by climate change, especially in vulnerable groups and during periods of extreme weather such as high variations in temperatures.

Some supporting groups, such as Lifeline, need to pay attention to the impact of climate change on mental health and suicide. They need to be able to provide relevant support to vulnerable groups, such as victims of natural disasters, to prevent the increase of potential suicide risk.

It has been known that mental health problems and suicidal behaviours can be triggered by disasters and extreme weather events. As climate change continues these events are likely to become more frequent and intense.The Conversation

About The Author

Xin Qi, Researcher, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you,, and at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.



follow InnerSelf on


 Get The Latest By Email



The Rise Of Solar Power
Solar power is on the rise. You can see the evidence on rooftops and in the desert, where utility-scale solar plants…
World's Largest Batteries: Pumped Storage
by Practical Engineering
The vast majority of our grid-scale storage of electricity uses this clever method.
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?
by Zhenguo Huang
Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…


Microsoft’s Moonshot Plan to Reverse Its Lifetime CO2 Emissions by 2050
Microsoft’s Moonshot Plan to Reverse Its Lifetime CO2 Emissions by 2050
by Vanessa Bates Ramirez
The alarming headlines about Australia’s bush fires over the last couple weeks have heightened the global outcry over…
A Climate-linked Financial Crisis Looms, But The Fix Isn't Up To Central Banks
A Climate-Linked Financial Crisis Looms, But The Fix Isn't Up To Central Banks
by Richard Holden
The Bank for International Settlements – the “central bank” for central banks – made headlines with a report outlining…
Paris Climate Goals May Be Beyond Reach
Paris Climate Goals May Be Beyond Reach
by Alex Kirby
Scientists find carbon dioxide is more potent than thought, meaning the Paris climate goals on cutting greenhouse gases…
Stoneflies And Mayflies Are The 'Coal Mine Canaries' Of Our Streams
Stoneflies And Mayflies Are The 'Coal Mine Canaries' Of Our Streams
by Boris Kondratieff
Experienced anglers recognize that for a trout, the ultimate “steak dinner” is a stonefly or mayfly.
Why Action On Climate Change Gets Stuck And What To Do About It
Why Action On Climate Change Gets Stuck and What To Do About It
by Matthew Hoffmann and Steven Bernstein
This erasure of one government’s climate project by its successor was only the tip of the melting iceberg.
5 Ways To Turn CO₂ From Pollution To A Valuable Product
5 Ways To Turn CO₂ From Pollution To A Valuable Product
by Ella Adlen and Cameron Hepburn
It’s far easier to avoid burning fossil fuels than it is to clean up CO₂ emissions once they’re in the Earth’s…
Predicting The Future Of The Climate Crisis
Can We Predict The Future Of The Climate Crisis?
by Robert Jennings,
Can the future be predicted? Most certainly. Can anyone or anything predict the future with any certainty?
Can Sea Water Desalination Save The World?
Today, one out of three people don’t have access to safe drinking water. And that’s the result of many things, but one…