Why hotter weather may mean rise in suicide deaths in China as reality of climate change hits

China should take action to reduce the potential impact of hot weather on suicide rates and protect people’s mental health as global temperatures continue to rise, according to researchers.
The measures could include early intervention, education, social support, meteorological warnings and long-term climate adaptation strategies, the researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai said.
The suggestions follow a study the academics conducted into the relationship between rising temperatures and suicide rates in China. The results showed that rising temperatures were linked to increasing death risks.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post in early September, Chen Renjie, co-author of the study and a professor at Fudan University, said the measures should be part of a collaborative effort between the health sector, the government and other social organisations.

“We need to take comprehensive measures, focusing on mental health … and promoting cooperation in various fields, to reduce the adverse effects of climate change on people’s mental health,” Chen said.

“This is essential to ensure [people’s] health and well-being.”

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July 2023 expected to be world’s hottest month in recorded history

July 2023 expected to be world’s hottest month in recorded history

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Psychiatry in March and conducted by researchers from Fudan University and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.


The authors used data from 432,008 suicide deaths occurring between 2013 and 2019 across mainland China, with the information collected from the China Cause of Death Reporting System, the most representative national death registry in China.

They also obtained the meteorological data from a global climate reanalysis product – the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Reanalysis Fifth Generation (ERA5) – and found a direct correlation between daily temperatures and relative risk of suicide deaths.

Then they used climate projections from global climate models and predicted temperature-related suicide deaths through to 2099.

The researchers found that more than 65,000 suicide deaths in China between 2013 and 2019 were associated with “non-optimal temperature”, meaning temperature above the theoretical minimum-risk exposure level. That accounted for 15 per cent of the total suicide deaths during that time period.

Suicide numbers among Hong Kong young people almost double in less than 10 years

The authors predicted that climate warming could result in an additional 24,000 suicides in China in the 2090s under the high-emission scenario, compared to the historical period between 1980 and 2009.


Nationally, compared with the historical period, excess suicide deaths would increase by 11.4 per cent in the 2050s and 21.7 per cent in the 2090s under the high-emission scenario, the study said.

Moreover, the authors found that older adults and people with low education levels had a higher risk of heat-related suicide, and the percentage increases in the number of excess suicide deaths would be higher in southern China and in winter.


“We projected that the excess suicide deaths will increase with the warming climate, characterised by a consistent and drastic increase over this century under the high-emission scenario,” the authors wrote in the study.

The authors did not say how hotter temperatures could increase the suicide risk level.

Gao Ya, lead author of the study and a PhD candidate at Fudan University, said the percentage increments of excess suicide deaths would be high in winter because the baseline was low and people tended to be more sensitive to unusually high temperatures in winter. Also, the climate warming may be more evident in winter than in other seasons.

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The study is consistent with previous studies in other nations. In a 2018 study in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from the US, Canada and Chile found that temperature increases through to 2050 could lead to an additional 21,000 suicide deaths in the US and Mexico.


In the Chinese study, the authors observed that the relative risk of suicide deaths was the strongest in the present day, suggesting the importance of early intervention and monitoring measures during heatwaves and periods of rapid temperature rises.

“The study highlights the potential threat to people’s mental health caused by climate change, and it provides key information for developing coping strategies,” Gao said.

“It also suggests that we need to include mental health in climate change adaptation strategies. Governments, the health sector and social organisations should provide more support, including mental health services, to help the vulnerable populations adjust to climate change.”

If you have suicidal thoughts or know someone who is experiencing them, help is available. In Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.


South China Morning Post

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