Here is some alarming yet extremely important information which may have a direct impact on those of us with mast cell disease. Research shows more people may commit suicide during pollen season that at any other time of the year, including the holidays.
In 2005, Postolache and his collaborators found that the suicide rate among young women doubled during peak pollen season, and the rate among older women went up by more than four-fold. Last year, researchers in Texas similarly found that suicide attempts in women rose with daily tree pollen counts in the Dallas area. And just last month, a paper published in Environmental Research found that increased pollen in the air raised the risk of suicide in women in Tokyo—meaning this dark trend might apply across cultures.
“I think it points toward a strong link between allergic rhinitis and mental health,” said Christopher Lowry, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Denver.
Many allergy sufferers might, when their mucous membranes are burning and their sinuses feel like they’re clogged with Silly Putty, say they want to die. And indeed, some of Postolache’s studies have found links between increases in allergy symptoms, aggression, and mood disturbances. But the connection doesn’t seem to be driven by allergy-induced misery alone. Instead, it appears to be caused by an inflammatory chain reaction that allergens set off in the body.
There are several ways in which a severe reaction to airborne allergens might tip the scales for someone at risk for suicide, but here’s one. When a speck of pollen from the air comes into contact with immune cells in the nose, the cells release cytokines—molecules that cells use to communicate messages to one another. Postolache and others believe cytokines might drift through the nose to enter the brain. There, the cytokines might disrupt the brain’s delicate chemical soup, shifting the balance from feel-good chemicals to toxic ones that may trigger anxiety and impulsive behavior. Besides the nose, cytokines might also influence the brain by traveling through nerves, or by prompting immune cells to mistakenly attack healthy brain cells.
These cytokines, then, may play a role in the angst and impulsiveness that drives people to take their lives. Indeed, Postolache and others found elevated cytokine levels in the brains of suicide victims.
This is not the only evidence out there, either. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics report that suicide rates in the United States are lowest during the winter months and highest in the late spring and early summer.
I know from my own personal experience that my worst time of year symptom-wise is always from about mid May through the end of July and I struggle very, very badly with intense anxiety and depression throughout the summer months and I never quite knew why.
In fact, I have always felt that I have the opposite of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) where winter triggers depression in sufferers. I feel my best from late fall to early spring, so this research explains a lot.
Now I know to be extra cautious and maybe even adjust my meds and do things to reduce my exposure as best I can during pollen season, especially as I age since it specifically says that suicide rates can quadruple for older women (!). I’ll be bringing this up with my doctor because it’s a real problem for me every single year and we are heading right into the danger zone for me with each passing day.
If you are a patient and find yourself struggling with your emotions and find your mind going to really dark places as we head deeper into pollen season too, this may be related to your mast cell disease.
Please, if this is the case, speak to your doctor about this right away and if you are having suicidal thoughts please IMMEDIATELY call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Remember, we are in this craziness together. Gentle hugs.