Geospatial Examination of Lithium in Drinking Water and Suicide Mortality

International Journal of Health GeographicsInternational Journal of Health Geographics 2012, 11:19

Marco Helbich, Michael Leitner, and Nestor D. Kapusta

“Background: Lithium as a substance occurring naturally in food and drinking water may exert positive effects on mental health. In therapeutic doses, which are more than 100 times higher than natural daily intakes, lithium has been proven to be a mood-stabilizer and suicide preventive. This study examined whether natural lithium content in drinking water is regionally associated with lower suicide rates.

“Methods: Previous statistical approaches were challenged by global and local spatial regression models taking spatial autocorrelation as well as non-stationarity into account. A Geographically Weighted Regression (GWR) model was applied with significant independent variables as indicated by a spatial autoregressive (SAR) model.

“Results: The association between lithium levels in drinking water and suicide mortality can be confirmed by the global spatial regression model. In addition, the local spatial regression model showed that the association was mainly driven by the eastern parts of Austria.

Significant suicide hot and cold spots.

Significant suicide hot and cold spots.

“Conclusions: Accordingly to old anecdotic reports the results of this study support the hypothesis of positive effects of natural lithium intake on mental health. Both, the new methodological approach and the results relevant for health may open new avenues in the collaboration between Geographic Information Science, medicine, and even criminology, such as exploring the spatial association between violent or impulsive crime and lithium content in drinking water. However, further research is needed before a voluntary intake of lithium may be recommended for the individual.”