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Dr Timo Partonen
"This could be linked to alterations in the functioning of the body clock"
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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK
Suicide 'linked to' the moon
Seasonal changes in light and temperature can affect depressed people
Suicide rates are affected by the moon and changes in seasons, according to researchers.

A study of 1400 suicides found that people were more likely to make an attempt on their life when there was a new moon.

The study, carried out by the Finnish National Public Health Institute, also suggested that suicide rates increased as winter turned into spring and summer turned into autumn.

Dr Timo Partonen, a researcher at the Institute, said the study which examined all suicides in Finland over a one year period aimed to find out if there was any time of the day, month or year, that suicide was more common.

He suggested that the peaks in suicide when the seasons change could be linked to changes in light and temperature which disturb the human body clock.

Dr Partonen said increased light levels at the start of spring encourages people to be more active but it can still be cold enough to make the body clock think winter is still in force.

"Maybe this mismatch of information to the body clock is harmful to depressed people. It may make depressed people more vulnerable to self harm during these periods."

The same phenomenon was found as summer gave way to autumn where light levels decreased but temperatures were variable.

The moon

Dr Partonen said a higher rate of suicide was also linked to phases of the moon.

These phases could be a dangerous period of time for those with suicidal ideas

Dr Timo Partonen, Finnish National Public Health Institute

Peaks were found at the phase of the new moon in autumn and winter, when it is darker at night, and during the full moon in spring and autumn when there is an increased amount of light.

"These phases could be a dangerous period of time for those with suicidal ideas," he said.

A spokeswoman for The Samaritans said they received their highest levels of calls in January and March.

"We get high levels of calls during every holidays and, particularly, in January after Christmas.

"It is very difficult to say why this may be the case but it is probably because January is at the start of the new year when many people are celebrating and looking forward to a new beginning whereas people who are depressed may feel particularly vulnerable at this time," she said.

Dr Partonen presented his findings to doctors at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

He recently started another study examining 1500 suicides over 12 years in one area in Finland to see if the pattern can be identified in different years when the seasonal changes will have been marginally different.

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See also:

17 Apr 00 | Health
Young men 'failed over suicide'
19 May 00 | Health
Teenage self-harm 'soars'
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