Social Ecology and Suicide: An Analysis of Topographic and Climatic Characteristics in Areas With Low and High Suicide Incidence
M. Oka
The current article examines the potential role of topography in suicide. First, I analyzed suicide data from 3,318 municipalities in Japan during the 30-year period of 1973-2002. I found that suicide rate was higher in municipalities with steeper slopes than less steep slopes. Moreover, the association between steep slopes and suicide rate remained significant, controlling for other well-known ecological factors such as population density, daylight hours, and snow. Second, I found that elevation per se was less important in predicting suicide rate than the presence of sharp slopes. That is, even if two municipalities are located in the same elevation (e.g., 600 meters above the water level), a municipality with more steep slopes tends to have a higher suicide rate than a municipality with more flat areas. In a flat community, there are more shops, clinics, and other gathering places easily accessible to its residents than in a sloped community. More generally, I posit that harsh natural environments demand more patience and self-control, which in turn makes residents in harsh environments less likely to seek help from others, which could result in a higher rate of suicide.

Key words: suicide, community, risk factors for suicide, prevention factors for suicide, geographical characteristics