The weather is cooling down which means more time spent indoors. For those fighting seasonal depression, the winter months can pose a threat to mental health. In the Black community, while mental health is becoming a more widely discussed topic, conversations around suicide remain taboo. (Talk about seasonal depression)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as seasonal depression or the Winter Blues, affects five percent of adults across the country. Lasting more than 40 percent of the year, SAD spells out an acronym that accurately describes those diagnosed with this type of major depressive disorder. Feelings of despair and worthlessness coupled with thoughts of self-inflicting harm are often the catalyst of acts of suicide. Though winter months have an effect on mental health and suicide, common misconceptions about the colder weather are causing misinformation.
“What we see from suicide rates is that rates are actually highest in the spring. There is kind of a myth about suicides being highest in the winter months. We don’t see that fairing out in the data at the state level or national data,” said Corbin Standley, chairman of the board of directors for the Michigan Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Still, more than 700,000 people die from suicide each year. African American populations saw a seven percent suicide rate in 2019 while risk factors for suicide remain the same across race and gender.
“In terms of risk factors, there are three major categories that we typically talk about when it comes to suicide and that’s health, environment and historical factors. In terms of those, this includes things like mental health conditions such as depression, substance abuse issues or bipolar disorder, for example. It also includes physical health issues. Physical health conditions can also impact risk for suicide,” said Standley.
With risk factors comes some signs that a person may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. With colder weather, isolation is easier for those living with depression. Supporters must stay vigilant for potential warning signs.
“There are three categories of those warning signs as well and they are: talk, behavior and mood. In terms of talk, a person might talk about feeling like they’re a burden on other people. They may feel like they no longer want to live. They may be straightforward about that [or] they may be subtle about it.
Suicide is not exclusive to adults as a spike in children’s cases has been noted nationally. Particularly for Black children, economic, social and racial factors play into the rise in suicide cases. As current as 2018, suicide is the second leading cause of death in Black children ages 10 to 14 and the third leading cause of death in Black adolescents ages 15 to 19, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“A lot of those warning signs can be very similar [to adults]. We know that there are some things you need to do to talk to your kids and teens about suicide. Part of it is making sure they know you’re a safe person to talk to,” said Standley.
Nationally, the overall numbers have begun to show a decrease in suicides. In 2019, suicide rates fell causing the first national year over year decrease since 1999. For children and adults alike, it is essential to create a safe space where individuals with suicidal thoughts or tendencies can have open dialogue about their thoughts and emotions.
“The best thing to do is show them you are a safe person to talk to, keeping those lines of communication open. It’s about having an honest conversation with somebody who might be struggling,” said Standley.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to suicide. Staying diligent with friends who may be suffering is key. If the problem is internal, seeking additional support outside of close friends and family may help.
“I think it’s important to mention that it’s not necessarily a formula of a certain number of risk factors or a certain number of warning signs, or certain periods of time. It’s about trusting your gut and reaching out to somebody who you think may be struggling and have a conversation with them,” said Standley.