Disasters to augment suicide rates

A healthy lifestyle involving moderate alcohol consumption, a healthy diet, regular physical activity, healthy sleep and frequent social connection, while avoiding smoking and too much sedentary behaviour, reduces the risk of depression, new research has found.

If believed, a new study has claimed that disasters increase the risk of suicides. The researchers at the University of Delaware said that the rates of suicide increased by 23 per cent when comparing rates before and after the disasters.

Jennifer Horney, founding director of the epidemiology program in the College of Health Sciences, told media that they analysed 281 natural disasters on suicide rates during a 12-year span. The scientist said that all types of disasters augmented suicide rates. The researchers published the article in Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention journal.

Horney said that the finding was important as better disaster response and preparedness could help in preventing such unnatural deaths.

They looked into data of several counties based on the Federal Emergency Management Agency between 2003 and 2015.  They calculated the suicide rates for each county at three 12-month periods before and after the disaster.

For all disaster types including severe storms, ice storms and flooding, the researchers found that the rates of suicide increased in both the first and second year following a disaster. They found that it declined in the third year.  They revealed in the article that flooding increased the rate of suicide by about 18 percent in the first year. Then it increased to 61 percent the second year before declining to the baseline rate in the third year. However, they claimed that suicide rate following hurricanes increased in the first year but declined in the second year

The researchers only looked at counties where a single disaster occurred. They did not look at places with multiple disaster episodes. As such, the researchers suggested more studies to find the relation between disasters and suicide.  However, the researchers called for a policy shift towards mental health resources to address the challenges arising after a natural disaster.

Horney also called for increasing the funding for mental health services for at least two years after a major disaster.


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