Can Living at a Higher Altitude Lead to Suicide?

Suicide is an unfortunate result of being extremely depressed or apathetic for one reason or another. Known reasons for suicidal behaviors are some medications, depression, extreme loss, certain mental illnesses, etc. Other times, a strange trend is seen in suicides.  One of these strange trends is the apparent correlation between high altitude and higher than normal suicide rates.

In 2012, a psychiatry professor from the U School of Medicine and his team found that suicide rates appeared to be higher in states with higher altitudes. They found that the risk of suicide was roughly one-third higher than normal at an altitude of 6,500 feet. The study focused on data available from NASA, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the Centers for Disease Control.

We know that the western states tend to have higher altitudes than eastern states. In 2006, all 10 of the states in the top 10 for suicides were western states. This was what led to the research. They wanted to see what the common denominator was and it was altitude. The conclusion was that the higher risk may have something to do with mild hypoxia and may just make already depressed people more depressed. Similar data is appearing at high altitudes in other countries, such as South Korea.

Book Bound in Human Skin: "Narrative of the Life of James Allen"

The Boston Athenaeum, among its many interesting volumes, holds an autobiography that is bizarre and intriguing on a number of levels. The book, known to most simply as "Narrative of the Life of James Allen," is the deathbed confession of a young criminal who was torn between a life of crime without god and a death with forgiveness from god. At least, that was how the warden put it in his notes in the book. Regardless of the man's struggle, he made a macabre decision to have this confession/biography bound in his own skin after his death. A man named Peter Low did the arguably disgusting deed.

Thanks to the story behind the story, "Narrative of the Life of James Allen" is widely available. It is also in the public domain, so readers can download it free online. Even without the dead skin of the author adorning its pages, it is a worthy read. Young James Allen, who went by a number of aliases, gives the reader a glimpse into the life of an early 19th century highwayman. He only lived from 1809 until 1837, but James Allen had more than just a confession to offer. He confessed the failings of his parents, his guardians and his employees as well. The book turned into a guidebook on how to turn a young man into a criminal.

The skin of "Narrative of the Life of James Allen" is treated so it looks like deerskin. However, that is little consolation to viewers who know it is the skin of the man whose life story is told within its pages. The cover is adorned with a rectangle of black leather on which "HIC LIBER WALTONIS CUTE COMPACTUS EST" is stamped in gold.

It might add to the story to say that James Allen was executed in Massachusetts State Prison. However, he died of what the warden called consumption. Today, we would call it pulmonary tuberculosis.