If you listen to popular songs, you might conclude there’s no day as depressing as a Monday. But a new study shows that lyricists may have gotten it all wrong and that Wednesday is really the darkest day of the week.
The study, published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, found that people are far more likely to kill themselves in the middle of the week than in the beginning or the end: almost 25 percent of suicides occur on Wednesdays as compared to 14 percent on Mondays or Saturdays, the two days tied for second-highest suicide rates. The study also found if you make it through Wednesday, your risk for suicide plummets by more than half the following day; Thursdays have the lowest rate, with only 11 percent of suicides.
Research up until now has pointed a finger at Mondays, said the new report’s lead author, Augustine J. Kposowa, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside. “Everyone talks about the Monday blues,” Kposowa added. “But if you look at more recent data, it looks like things have shifted and now it’s the middle of the week that’s the problem.”
More study is needed to fully understand the findings, but researchers suspect that we may be seeing a positive impact of technology on suicide and depression. With the advent of e-mail, Internet discussion groups and text messaging, people can now stay in touch with the outside world even if they are holed up by themselves at home the entire weekend.
As for the spike in suicides in the middle of the week, Kposowa suggested that the increase may indicate job stress. “People may be fed up and stressed by their jobs by the middle of the week,” he said. “By Wednesday, the traffic has gotten to be too much, their co-workers are getting on their nerves and they can’t figure out how they’re going to make it to the end of the week.”
Kposowa and his co-author examined data on deaths in people over the age of 18 for five years — 2000 through 2004 — from all 50 states. On average, the researchers found that there were about 30,000 suicides per year in this group. The researchers detected another interesting change in the suicide data. Contrary to earlier studies that showed an increased rate of suicides in winter and spring, the new data showed almost no seasonal effect on suicide rates. Slightly more occurred in the summer — 26 percent — while the fewest occurred in the winter, at 23.8 percent.
Kposowa again looks to the nation’s higher connectedness — through the Internet and cell phones — to explain the lack of a seasonal effect. Winter just doesn’t isolate people as much as it used to, he said.
The new study is “intriguing and provocative,” said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “It goes against a lot of what we take as lore. We think about the classic problems people have on Sunday nights thinking about going back to school or work, and the winter blues, especially in people with Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
The strength of the new study is that it looked at the entire country over five years, said Alexandre Y. Dombrovski, a research assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
But Dombrovski cautioned against reading too much into the Wednesday effect. “While it’s tempting to conclude that people choose Wednesday because it’s the most stressful day, you have to remember that many suicides are premeditated and they don’t necessarily occur as a result of the events on the day the suicide occurred,” he said.
Still, it is possible that a particularly stressful day can push someone into implementing previously devised plans, Dombrovski allowed.
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One important message people should take from this study is that there is no day or season when someone can be considered to be safe from suicide, Manevitz said.
“If someone you know is showing warning signs, don’t take for granted that it’s not something to worry about because of the day of the week or the season of the year,” he cautioned. “Friends and family need to take suicidal ideation seriously at all times.”
Any time someone sounds preoccupied with death or seems particularly depressed about their lives, you need to follow up, even if you think they’re just focusing on small things, Manevitz said. “You should never be afraid to ask questions like, ‘Are you feeling so badly that you’re thinking about suicide?’”
Evidence shows that intervention by friends and family members works when it comes to suicide prevention, Manevitz said.
“If you’re worried about suicide, don’t leave the person alone,” he said. “Don’t let him isolate himself.”
Linda Carroll is a health and science writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Health magazine and SmartMoney.
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