Suicide and drought in New South Wales, Australia, 1970-2007

Ivan C. Hanigan*, Colin D. Butler, Philip N. Kokic, Michael F. Hutchinson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    176 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    There is concern in Australia that droughts substantially increase the incidence of suicide in rural populations, particularly among male farmers and their families. We investigated this possibility for the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia between 1970 and 2007, analyzing data on suicides with a previously established climatic drought index. Using a generalized additive model that controlled for season, region, and long-term suicide trends, we found an increased relative risk of suicide of 15% (95% confidence interval, 8%-22%) for rural males aged 30-49 y when the drought index rose from the first quartile to the third quartile. In contrast, the risk of suicide for rural females aged >30 y declined with increased values of the drought index. We also observed an increased risk of suicide in spring and early summer. In addition there was a smaller association during unusually warm months at any time of year. The spring suicide increase is well documented in nontropical locations, although its cause is unknown. The possible increased risk of suicide during drought in rural Australia warrants public health focus and concern, as does the annual, predictable increase seen each spring and early summer. Suicide is a complex phenomenon with many interacting social, environmental, and biological causal factors. The relationship between drought and suicide is best understood using a holistic framework. Climate change projections suggest increased frequency and severity of droughts in NSW, accompanied and exacerbated by rising temperatures. Elucidating the relationships between drought and mental health will help facilitate adaptation to climate change.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)13950-13955
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Volume109
    Issue number35
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2012

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