Suicide Risk Greater at Higher Altitudes

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There are a number of risk factors that put an individual at an increased risk of attempting or committing suicide, including mental illness, drug addiction, and socio-economic factors. Contributing to those risk factors, a team of researchers suggested that residing at high altitudes could be a risk factor for suicide. The research team, headed by Dr. Barry Brenner from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland Ohio, suggests that people who dwell at higher altitude could be more prone to suicides.

Study details

The stunning findings came after a vast review of twenty years of mortality data from counties across the United States. To reach their findings, Brenner, and co-authors David Cheng, MD, University Hospitals Case Medical Center (Cleveland, OH), Sunday Clark, MPH, ScD, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (PA), and Carlos Camargo Jr., MD, DrPH, Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston), examined cause-of-death data from all 2,584 U.S. counties between 1979 and 1998. During that time, there were 596,704 suicide deaths in 42,868,100 total deaths.

Study findings

After comparing the 50 counties with the highest suicide rate to the 50 counties with the lowest, the researchers found that county altitude was on average almost eight times higher in the areas with high suicide rates. More precisely, the average altitude in the counties with the highest suicide rates was 4,684 feet, and the average altitude in the counties with the lowest suicide rates was 582 feet. After the analysis, the researchers found that, as a group, people living at higher elevations had a statistically significant higher rate of suicide. Authors said the positive correlation between high altitude and suicide risk was present even after they controlled for known suicide risk factors such as older age, male gender, white race, and low income. “This article describes a new, unexpected finding of a link between suicide rate and altitude of residence. The cause is obscure as yet,” said John B. West, MD, PhD, editor-in-chief of High Altitude Medicine & Biology and professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, according to The authors of the study say that further studies need to be conducted to determine the link between suicides and high altitude.


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