3 Living in High Altitudes
OK, so suppose you were born in the dead of winter after being conceived in a Wendy's parking lot on your parents' prom night, successfully dodging those first two bullets we discussed and leaving absolutely no reason for you to be depressed or emotionally unstable. Not so fast, jack. Take a look at the stack of unpaid bills on the plastic table in the kitchen. If the address says something like Colorado or Utah and you can look out the window and see mountains, your brain eggs may well be scrambled.
"Maybe it's the hypoxia talking, but I could totally land this."
Out of the 10 states in the U.S. with the highest suicide rates, nine are Western states situated pretty far above sea level (like Utah, which sits at an average altitude of 6,500 feet). These states tend to have high rates of both alcoholism and gun ownership, as well as low population densities -- three things that also contribute to suicides (because that's what happens when you're fighting boredom with a case of Keystone Light, five handguns and no neighbors for 9 miles in any direction). Even after accounting for these factors, however, researchers found that people who lived in those high-altitude Western states were still 33 percent more likely to take themselves out.
This isn't just an American phenomenon, either. To test if it was really the elevation driving people bananas, the researchers conducted the same study in South Korea, where they found that people living at the same 6,500-foot altitude as Utah were a staggering 125 percent more likely to punch their own ticket.
Polygamy is Utah's only saving grace.
So why does this happen? Once again, nobody is certain. The scientists involved with the study think that the increased suicide risk might have something to do with the lack of oxygen in the air so far above sea level. Even a comparatively small depreciation of oxygen can put severe metabolic stress on the brain, which can either plant the seed of crazy or stoke the fires of pre-existing madness like a gasoline-spewing Gary Busey.
2 Warm Weather and Sunlight
So we joked that everybody waits until fall/winter to get depressed, but it's not a joke -- there is actually a term for it (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, hilariously). It's basically a cyclical depression that some people experience during the winter months. This is understandable -- the days are short and cold, the nights are long, lonely and freezing, and you hear three straight months of Christmas music.
"Come here. I just want to talk. About killing you."
However, there is a small percentage of people who go through the winter whistling merrily, twirling a cane and spinning a top hat (probably), only to have the bright months of summer hit them like the death of Mufasa. The warm weather and piercingly joyous sunlight actually make them horribly suicidal.
Only 1 percent of Americans reportedly suffer from summer SAD (as opposed to the 5 percent who suffer from winter SAD), but the symptoms are pretty extreme -- one sufferer blacks out all her windows like a drug-dealing Batman and sleeps with frozen bottles of water in her bed, simply because the sunlight and the heat make her abysmally depressed. It isn't a body image thing, either -- people who suffer from summer SAD aren't just walking beanbags who hate going to the beach for fear of being mistaken for a Cloverfield hatchling crawling out of the ocean in board shorts. The disorder affects them at a deep neurological level, keeping most victims indoors for months (even bedridden), experiencing extreme weight loss and paralyzing anxiety.
At least you can watch The Wire in its entirety.
Research shows that cases become more prevalent closer to the equator. Southern states in the U.S. report more summer SAD victims, and in the hottest parts of India (which you may recognize as an entire country situated almost directly above the equator), the condition is actually common -- more people there suffer from summer SAD than winter SAD, possibly because India is a place where winter does not exist.
Scientists aren't really sure why this happens to some people, but they do have some guesses. For one thing, heat does things to the body, like suppressing the thyroid hormone, which results in a severe energy drain that is a telltale symptom of depression and could explain why summer SAD victims stay in bed all day. High temperatures also stimulate a specific hormone called prolactin, which sounds like that foot fungus repellent John Madden sells but totally isn't. Prolactin can block the effects of dopamine, better known as the feel-good juice your body produces in response to pleasurable stimulation. It is essentially the only reason anybody does anything, and if a person's ability to feel the effects of dopamine were blocked (say, by warm weather), he or she would be one sad bastard.
Interestingly, many antidepressants actually lower a person's body temperature, which seems to further indicate some relationship between heat and debilitating misery.