Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/612

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604
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SUICIDE AND THE WEATHER.
By Professor EDWIN G. DEXTER,

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS.

MUCH has been written and rewritten on the subject of suicide. It has long been a favorite topic with the student of social statistics, and has been scientifically treated from the standpoint of race, of nationality, of social condition, of occupation and of climate. Whole volumes have been devoted to the problem and magazine articles almost without number. It is not, however, my intention in this paper even to summarize the conclusions arrived at in all this mass of literature, but to discuss a phase of the subject which can not have escaped the reader of the daily paper, and has long proved an enigma to the special student of the problem of self-destruction—that is, the daily fluctuation in the occurrence of suicide. Why is it that upon picking up our daily paper one morning we see the heading 'Epidemic of Suicide', and find the details of six or eight or even a dozen successful or unsuccessful attempts recorded for the previous day—a number greater than for the whole week preceding? Yet such is often the case—so often, in fact, as not infrequently to have been the subject of editorial comment, with vague queries as to the cause of such a wave of emotional depression and consequent self-destruction.

The answers to this query have been many and varied, among the most frequent of which has been chance. Mimicry and suggestion have been proposed, and without doubt have their place in the solution of the problem of the periodical fluctuation of the suicide curve, but still can not account for all its peculiarities. The weather has also been suggested as the cause of the fluctuation referred to, and it is to the following out of this promising clew that this paper is confined.

From a priori grounds it would seem to be a good one, for of all the environmental conditions, those of the weather are the only ones which vary for all the individuals in a given locality simultaneously. A and B and C all have troubles peculiarly their own, the climax of which could not be expected to occur upon the same day; but when the east wind blows and the sky is leaden A, B and C all feel the influence, whatever it may be, and an empirical study of large numbers of A's and B's and C's, noting their behavior under such conditions, would seem to be the surest method of discovering just what the influence is.

That weather states have a mental effect has long been recognized. Literature is full of allusions to the fact, and not a few of the world's