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Does air pollution trigger suicide? A case-crossover analysis of suicide deaths over the life span

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In addition to underlying health disorders and socio-economic or community factors, air pollution may trigger suicide mortality. This study evaluates the association between short-term variation in air pollution and 10 years of suicide mortality in Belgium. In a bidirectional time-stratified case-crossover design, 20,533 suicide deaths registered between January 1st 2002 and December 31st 2011 were matched by temperature with control days from the same month and year. We used municipality-level air pollution [particulate matter (PM10) and O3 concentrations] data and meteorology data. We applied conditional logistic regression models adjusted for duration of sunshine and day of the week to obtain odds ratios (OR) and their 95% CI for an increase of 10 µg/m3 in pollutant concentrations over different lag periods (lag 0, 0–1, 0–2, 0–3, 0–4, 0–5, and 0–6 days). Effect modification by season and age was investigated by including interaction terms. We observed significant associations of PM10 and O3 with suicide during summer (OR ranging from 1.02 to 1.07, p-values <0.05). For O3, significant associations were also observed during spring and autumn. Age significantly modified the associations with PM10, with statistically significant associations observed only among 5–14 year old children (lag 0–6: OR = 1.45; 95% CI: 1.03–2.04) and ≥85 years old (e.g. lag 0–4: OR = 1.17; 95% CI: 1.06–1.29). Recent increases in outdoor air pollutants such as PM10 or O3 can trigger suicide, particularly during warm periods, even at concentrations below the European thresholds. Furthermore, PM10 may have strong trigger effects among children and elderly population.

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This work was funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO), Grant Number: BR/143/A3/GRESP-HEALTH. Lidia Casas and Bianca Cox are recipients of post-doctoral fellowships of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), Grant Numbers 12I1517N and 12Q0517N, respectively.

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Correspondence to Lidia Casas.

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Casas, L., Cox, B., Bauwelinck, M. et al. Does air pollution trigger suicide? A case-crossover analysis of suicide deaths over the life span. Eur J Epidemiol 32, 973–981 (2017).

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