Not getting the message that emissions are bad?  A new paper claims that air pollution and emissions from coal-fired electricity plants are associated with higher suicide rates right along with psychiatric conditions.

Not sure who such a claim is worse for, energy companies or psychiatrists?  Me either, though psychiatrists are having a bad year due to the release of DSM-5 and the abuse they are getting from other psychiatrists. "The reason why so many of the syndromes don't work out when they do field trials is that they don't exist in biological reality, they only exist in the DSM," psychiatrist Michael Taylor, author of "Hippocrates Cried: The Decline of American Psychiatry", told Sharon Jayson of USA TODAY.

But at least some thought went into DSM-5. It's only useless when it deviates from severe mental illness and ends up making 'normal' a tiny subset of the population.  For severe mental illness it's still a valid tome. 

But due to a powerful marketing campaign, emissions are now in Big Tobacco levels of cultural conspiracy and weird correlation-causation arrow territory. Almost as silly as third-hand smoke causing cancer. Not even DSM-5 tries to say coal emissions cause mental illness. "The presence of a coal-fired electricity plant correlated with airborne levels of nickel, mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, beryllium and arsenic," said the paper's author, John G. Spangler, M.D., M.P.H., and professor of family medicine at Wake Forest Baptist. "This study raises interesting questions about suicide rates in counties where coal-fired electrical plants operate and suggests that the quality of air can affect people suffering from different mood disorders."

But couldn't you also correlate cancer, diabetes, liver disease and infant mortality to coal emissions if you just look for a number that matches counties with coal plants?  Yep, and Spangler has done that also. 

But the coal plants are simpler. County-level suicide rates in North Carolina are 15% higher than the total US population (12.4 per 100,000 population versus 10.8 per 100,000), a US average that includes really high suicide states like Hawaii. And North Carolina has coal plants instead of safer alternatives like nuclear or fracking. The secret sauce in the Journal of Mood Disorders paper was discovering that counties with a coal plant had 2 more suicides per 100,000 annually. That means since the population of North Carolina was just over 8,000,000 in year 2000, 3,200 suicides a year were associated with coal-fired electricity plants.

But let's not stop there, let's extrapolate that out. It means suicide rates would drop nationally by almost 10% if we got rid of coal plants in just one state. Since guns cause another 50% of suicides and we also have video games and Katherine Heigl movies causing people to take their own lives, if we simply get rid of all of the things making people off themselves, we would soon reach negative suicide numbers - dead people would actually start coming back to life.

Well, maybe not. But I bet if I search through the US Census, N.C. State Center for Health Statistics and EPA statistics long enough, I can find an association to undead people in there somewhere.

Citation: John G. Spangler, 'Association of suicide rates and coal-fired electricity plants by county in North Carolina', JMOOD. 2013; 3(1): 8-10 doi: 10.5455/jmood.20121120043720 (open access)


The Amp Goes To 11 in the title is an homage to the movie "Spinal Tap" which, to-date, is not associated with suicides: