Is Excessive Tanning a Warning Sign of Suicidal Behavior?

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Source: Alexis O'Toole

Source: Alexis O’Toole

We associate a lot of things with people who visit the tanning salon a bit too often, but rarely do we assume they are suicidal. However, a new study suggests that high-school students who frequently tan may actually be depressed or at risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock discovered that excessive indoor tanning was linked to more than a 2-fold increased chance of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and a greater than 4-fold likelihood of suicide attempt. For the study, excessive indoor tanning was defined as tanning 40 times or more over the course of 12 months.

Based on the findings presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 annual meeting, coauthor and child and adolescent psychiatrist Molly Gathright, MD, told Medscape Medical News that high school students who tan excessively “may benefit from depression screening.”

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 12% of high school students have reportedly used indoor tanning, and 2.7% of those surveyed reported excessive indoor tanning.

This most recent study is not the only study to associate excessive tanning with negative behavior or mental health effects. Previous studies have linked indoor tanning to seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Dr. Gathright and UAMS medical student used the data from the 2011 YRBS to examine the association between excessive indoor tanning with depression, defined for the study as 2 weeks of sadness, and suicide ideation, plan, attempt, and treatment.

After controlling for age, race, and sex, the researchers still saw a strong positive correlation between reports of excessive indoor tanning and depressive symptoms, suicide ideation, suicide plan, suicide attempt, and treatment for suicide attempt.

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