suicide risk in the climate crisis

The relationship between the climate crisis and suicide

There are many complex reasons for suicide, but research shows that climate change can be linked to rising suicide rates, making it an issue of global concern. 

There are seasonal patterns to suicide, with more suicides occurring in the warmer months. Global heating may affect these patterns. Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist of the 19th century, noted more than a century ago that there are seasonal patterns to suicide. These seasonal patterns have been observed across the globe, with a peak in early summer months. Seasonal increases in suicide rates may be related to variations in temperature, daylight exposure, diet, and mood disorders.

Regardless of seasonal changes in suicide rates, studies in recent years show that rising temperatures can affect the number of suicides independent of what season it is. More research is needed to understand this relationship.

Climate change is being described as an existential threat to humanity. So far, how direct psychological distress about the climate crisis might lead to suicide has not been well studied. However, there is some understanding that on the individual level climate change is leading to solastalagia, emotional distress, and anxiety about the future which have the potential to lead to suicide. Examples include:

Researchers have found that young people are struggling with complex emotions and dissatisfaction in government responses to climate change. 

What leads any one individual to commit suicide is difficult to understand and there is a concern that writing about it may inspire someone to do it. But these deaths speak to the fact that an increasing number of people grappling with the climate crisis, such as climate activists, are facing hopelessness and existential despair.

If you or someone you know in the United States is in crisis or is having thoughts of suicide call or text 988 or chat and speak with a certified listener. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline replaced the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK) but can still be used in the US. The website offers many additional resources. Go here for hotlines outside the United States.

Unequal impacts

No community or group of people is immune from the impacts of climate changes, but the climate crisis does unequally increase the psychosocial stress that contributes to suicide in particularly vulnerable people and communities. Groups that experience more stress because of climate change are vulnerable to mental health issues exacerbated by climate change. These groups include:

  • Refugees from areas threatened by sea-level rise and climate-related conflict.
  • Low and middle-income populations who may struggle to adapt to a changing climate.

Consequences if we don’t reduce climate emissions

As the planet warms and climate stress increases, there will likely be more suicides. Research data suggest that “business as usual” temperature increases could contribute to ​​as many as 40,000 excess suicides by 2050 in the U.S. and Mexico alone.

Suicide is an important public health concern worldwide. It is a reflection of human hardship and is preventable. As the climate crisis worsens, it is critical that there are suicide prevention resources made available. There also needs to be a strong investment in mental health and well-being in high-income and low- and middle-income countries. Urgent action on climate change and adaptation to the social, cultural, and economic effects of climate change is also needed.

Research findings

Recent studies show an association between rising suicide rates and climate-related stressors. Some recent important findings include:

  • Rising temperatures: Suicide rates increased 0.7% for every 1 degree C increase in temperature in Mexico and U.S. In Asia, a link between suicide and high temperatures was observed in large urban populations. Globally, the relationship between temperature and suicide varies across regions and climates and more research is needed. 
  • Little is known about the mechanisms that connect heat and suicide, but some researchers think it might have to do with changes to sleep and neurotransmitters
  • People become more violent with heat and other climate stressors, and suicide is a form of self-directed aggression, so similar biological mechanisms could underlie both interpersonal violence and suicides.
  • Air pollution, due to burning of fossil fuels and wildfires, accounts for millions of premature deaths every year. Many studies show there is population-wide increases in suicide after episodes of worsened air quality.
  • Droughts were linked to suicides of rural males in New South Wales.
  • Higher numbers of suicides in India during years with crop-damaging heat suggests a connection between heat, social and economic stress, and suicide. This has important implications for low- and middle-income countries in the global south which account for over 70% of suicides worldwide.

What more might we need to know?

Suicide and suicide prevention are urgent and complex issues that require complex solutions. More research is needed to understand what is driving suicides in vulnerable groups, as well what is driving those that are linked to climate change.

Climate change, alongside perceived government inaction, is leading to climate anxiety and hopelessness in youth worldwide. Grappling with climate grief can also be seen as a healthy reaction to a planet in trouble.

How to help or get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis or having thoughts of suicide in the United States, call or text 988, or go to to speak with a certified listener. 

The website offers many additional resources.

Go here for hotlines outside the United States.

If you struggle emotionally with climate change or have suicidal feelings, know that you are not alone. Seek support from someone you trust. Speak with your doctor, a therapist, and trusted friends and family.

If you are looking for a climate-aware therapist, you can find global resources at the Climate Psychology Alliance.

The future is uncertain, but we can find space for hope and action. Turning climate grief into action in your personal life does make a difference for the environment and your well-being.

Further reading


Generation Dread, by Britt Wray, published in 2022 by Penguin Random House.

Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, second edition, published in 2016 by Canongate.

Suicide: A Study in Sociology, by Emile Durkheim, second edition, published in 2002 by Routledge.

Under the Sky we Make, by Kimberly Nicholas PhD, published in 2021 by Penguin Random House.

Articles and Online Sources

We Need to Talk About Climate Change and Suicide, published in The New Republic on December 28, 2021, by Eleanor Cummins. 

A Terrible Act of Reason: When Did Self-Immolation Become the Paramount Form of Protest?, published in The New Yorker on May 16, 2012, by James Verini. 

Selected Research/Scientific Papers

Ajdacic-Gross, V., Bopp, M., Ring, M., Gutzwiller, F., & Rossler, W. (2010). Seasonality in suicide – A review and search of new concepts for explaining the heterogeneous phenomena. Social Science and Medicine, 71(4), 657–666.

Burke, M., González, F., Baylis, P., Heft-Neal, S., Baysan, C., Basu, S., & Hsiang, S. (2018). Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico. Nature Climate Change, 8(8), 723–729.

Carleton, T. A. (2017). Crop-damaging temperatures increase suicide rates in India. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(33), 8746–8751.

Dumont, C., Haase, E., Dolber, T., Lewis, J., & Coverdale, J. (2020). Climate Change and Risk of Completed Suicide. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 208(7), 559–565.

Hanigan, I.C., Butler, C.D., Kokic, P.N., & Hutchinson, M.F. (2012). Suicide and drought in New South Wales, 109(35), 13950–13955.

Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R.E., Mayall, E.E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., & van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12), e863–e873.

Hsiang, S. M., Burke, M., & Miguel, E. (2013). Quantifying the influence of climate on human conflict. Science, 341(6151).

Kim, C. T., Lim, Y.H., Woodward, A., & Kim, H. (2015). Heat-attributable deaths between 1992 and 2009 in Seoul, South Korea. PLoS ONE, 10(2), 1–14.

Kim, Y., Kim, H., Gasparrini, A., Armstrong, B., Honda, Y., Chung, Y., Ng, C. F. S., Tobias, A., Íñiguez, C., Lavigne, E., Sera, F., Vicedo-Cabrera, A.M., Ragettli, M. S., Scovronick, N., Acquaotta, F., Chen, B.Y., Guo, Y. L. L., Seposo, X., Dang, T.N., … Hashizume, M. (2019). Suicide and ambient temperature: A multi-country multi-city study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 127(11), 1–10.

Kim, Y., Kim,H., Honda, Y., Guo, Y.L., Chen, B.Y., Woo, J.M., & Ebi, K.L. (2016). Suicide and ambient temperature in East Asian Countries: A time-stratified case-crossover analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124(1), 75–80.

Mullins, J.T., & White, C. (2019). Temperature and mental health: Evidence from the spectrum of mental health outcomes. Journal of Health Economics, 68.

Author and version info

September 22, 2022
Author: Caroline Dumont, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine
Editor: Rei Takver