An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report released today gives details of suicides registered in the final quarter of 2021. It reveals the highest number, 31.4%, occurred last spring (Q2, April to June). This mirrors previous data from across the UK, Europe and the US, that suicide rates are high in spring. A leading testing expert says this seems counterintuitive, but ‘Reverse SAD’ (seasonal affective disorder) has been recognised for some time. There is increasing evidence that the return of spring allergies may play a part in increased symptoms of depression in April and May.
The leading Covid testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘We naturally assume that the dark winter months which trigger SAD are the peak time for depression. But, for some years now, data has been showing that it’s in April to June, as the days lighten, that cases can rise. The cause of this is insufficiently known but one contributing factor seems to be the return of allergies.
‘While this high figure for April to June, just as the days get warmer and brighter, is not what people might expect, around 16 million people in the UK suffer from hay fever, which returns in the spring. While most people suffer symptoms such as a runny nose, wheezing or hives, for others it may also trigger more problems such as anxiety and depression.
‘Rates of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance are greater in patients with hay fever (allergic rhinitis) than in the general population. A US study reports that the rate of allergy is also greater in patients with depression and patients with a history of allergy may have an increased rate of suicide. It found that seasonal spring peaks in aeroallergens are associated with seasonal spring peaks in suicide.
‘There is a known association between mood disorders and inflammation. Treating patients with medications that deliberately increase inflammation (interferon for hepatitis C, for example) is associated with a very high risk of depression and suicidal thinking.
‘Concerningly, certain medications used to treat allergies can exacerbate suicide risk factors, potentially worsening suicide risk and even triggering suicide. Corticosteroids taken orally or by injection have been associated with anxiety, altered mood, sleep disorder and abnormal behaviour according to the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
‘This month is Anxiety Awareness Month, and it is important to keep in mind that there are many different factors that increase stress and anxiety. London Medical Laboratory has just issued a new report on the link between careers and stress, for example. Additionally, spring is the time of year when we start to go outside and see friends and families more, and this can actually increase stress.
‘People predisposed to mental illness may see the dark and cold winter months as a reason to be isolated and cut off from the world. Spring’s longer days coupled with the clocks changing may cause some people to feel even more alone and insecure.
‘Of course, suicide and depression are extremely complex and seldom the result of a single factor, they are likely to have several inter-related causes – a combination of psychological, social and physical factors contribute to a person’s risk
‘Inflammation caused by hay fever is likely to be one more contributary factor. There are a number of tests available that check for inflammation-related C-reactive protein (CRP). For example, London Medical Laboratory’s Heart Health Profile blood test kit specifically tests for CRP.
‘For those suffering from allergies, London Medical Laboratory’s Allergy Complete is the UK’s most comprehensive allergy panel with 295 allergens tested. It is highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London and the southeast.
‘Analysing the latest ONS quarterly suicide death registrations data, of all suicides registered in the last quarter of 2021, 2.7% occurred in the same period; 15.0% occurred in January to March; 31.4% in April to June; 26.9% in July to September and 24.0% took place before 2021. All deaths caused by suicide in England are investigated by coroners. Given the length of time it takes to hold an inquest, most deaths are registered around five to six months after they occurred. The number of deaths which occurred in Q4, 2021 will, of course, rise significantly in future data.
‘Anyone suffering symptoms of depression or isolation this spring, whatever the potential cause, can call the Samaritans free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Samaritans to find their nearest branch.’