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Recommended action in the plan included eliminating age discrimination in mental health services, improving housing and healthcare for the elderly, and providing more support for older people and their carers.

Hot weather increases the risk of suicide, psychiatrists warn

Scientists who studied more than 50,000 suicides in England and Wales between 1993 and 2003 found that once the average daily temperature creeps above 18C there is a noticeable rise in the number of people taking their own lives.

After this threshold, each further degree increase in average temperature was associated with an almost four per cent rise in suicides.

But the team from the Institute of Psychiatry also found the same rise produced a five per cent rise in what they described as "violent suicides".

The research in the British Journal of Psychiatry looked in detail at observations that there are seasonal fluctuations in suicide in many populations.

The study set out to assess the relationship between daily temperature and daily suicide counts in England and Wales between January 1993 and December 2003 when there were 53,623 incidents - at an average of 13.3 per day.

Dr Lisa Page, a member of the team, said there were a number of possible reasons for this reaction to high average daily temperatures.

"We felt overall that the most likely explanation was probably a psychological one where for some people you have an unusually high degree of irritability, aggression and impulsivity," she said.

But other explanations could include raised levels of serotonin or even higher alcohol consumption, Dr Page added.

The research also explored whether heatwaves are linked to increased mortality from suicide and found rates increased by 46.9 per cent during the 1995 heatwave but there there was no change in during the 2003 heatwave.

A spokesman for the institute said: "The surprising finding that suicides increased during the 1995 heatwave but not during the 2003 heatwave may be explained by the fact that there were two periods of very hot weather in 2003, in mid-July and in August.

"The later heatwave in August may have resulted in fewer deaths through adaptation to higher temperatures among vulnerable people."Ω