The fluctuation in the number of suicides committed in the course of a year is influenced by several factors. In a recent study, researchers investigated the effects of moon phases, geomagnetic storms and solar proton events associated with solar flares using Hungarian suicide data from 1976 to 2010.
By Kmetty, Zoltán
The phases of the moon and sun and their effects of on human and animal behaviour have been studied for centuries. In their original research paper published in Reviews on Environmental Health, Hungarian sociologists studied the effects of the phases of the moon and sun and their association with suicide in Hungary from 1976 to 2010. The authors state that the effects on human behaviour are worth investigating because of two theoretical explanations.
Two factors play a role
The first one is a biological factor. Here, the Hungarian sociologists hypothesise that the observed phenomena may trigger certain physiological processes in humans that can potentially influence the likelihood of committing suicide.
The other aspect is a possible social – cognitive factor. Embedded in society and culture, people tend to associate certain phenomena (like the full moon) with such cognitive constructs that might lead to a higher rate of suicide.
Figures lower among women
Based on the researchers’ result on the day of the full moon, females commit fewer suicides than could be expected. Upon examining different age groups, they found that this tendency is only significant in the case of females aged between 50 and 59 years old. In addition, within this narrower age group, the effect is stronger. At the same time, a significant and positive new moon effect could be identified in the case of males over 60 years old.
Therefore, the sociologists can argue with caution that moon phases seem to exert an effect on both genders in the older age groups but in very different ways. Since these effects were only identified in certain narrow age groups, the cognitive symbolic explanation of their effect has to be rejected. It seems more likely that it is either the separate or the combined effects of those social and biological changes related to old age that might be responsible for the observed effects of moon phases.
Slight increase in women during child-bearing years
A significant but weak increase in the risk of suicide during protonic events has been identified in the case of women aged between 20 and 49 years old. This effect is related to the socially and most biologically active phase of women’s lives and does not characterise women below 20 and over 50 years old. It is possible that this phenomenon results from either particular social roles (motherhood, partnership) or biological background (giving birth, natural hormonal background, contraception) or from a combined effect of these two.
Geomagnetic storms demonstrated a weak but significant risk, decreasing the effect of suicide in the case of women aged between 50 and 59 years old.
With regard to solar activities, the authors found there was relatively little literature available in regards to suicide levels. However, it did seem to support the hypothesis that there might be a relationship between sun activity and the number of committed suicides.
On the other hand, there are more and more results available about the impact of magnetic storms on health-related issues investigating the correlation between stroke and geomagnetic storms, making it important to understand the possible causal mechanism behind this phenomenon.
The specific relationships identified in the case of females suggest that the biological factors the authors consider that contribute to suicides, may operate differently in the case of male and female populations. This also suggests that in understanding this extremely complex phenomenon, social and biological explanations should not be considered as rivals but as working in a complementary fashion.
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