Health & Wellbeing

Study suggests that suicide rates increase with altitude

Study suggests that suicide ra...
Utah’s high-elevation capital, Salt Lake City
Utah’s high-elevation capital, Salt Lake City
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Utah’s high-elevation capital, Salt Lake City
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Utah’s high-elevation capital, Salt Lake City

Led by Dr. Brent Michael Kious, scientists from the University of Utah have come to the conclusion that people living at higher altitudes may have an increased risk of suicide. The researchers do have a theory as to why this might be the case, along with some recommendations.

Kious and colleagues analyzed 12 previous studies (most of which were conducted in the US) that looked at the relationship between suicide or depression and altitude. What they found was that on a per-capita basis, suicides were more prevalent in the intermountain states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – although Alaska and Virginia also had high rates.

When the scientists adjusted US suicide rates for population distribution, suicides per 100,000 people were 17.7 at high-altitude locations, 11.9 at middle altitudes, and just 4.8 at low altitudes. Instead of there being a steady increase with altitude, however, the rates jumped dramatically at altitudes between approximately 2,000 and 3,000 feet (610 and 914 m).

While the studies couldn't account for all other factors that might lead to higher suicide rates in certain places, things such as increased poverty and lower income were also found to play a part. Interestingly, however, the populations living at higher altitudes had a lower risk of death from all causes combined. Additionally, the rate of firearm ownership was found to be less of a factor than altitude.

According to Kious' team, the reason for the increase in suicide rates with altitude may be what's known as chronic hypobaric hypoxia – low blood oxygen levels caused by low atmospheric pressure. The researchers believe that this could conceivably be addressed by using medication to either increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, or "to influence brain bioenergetics."

A paper on the research was recently published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health

7 comments
highlandboy
Be interesting to see whether socio-economic factors line up. Also whether being snow bound with no easily accessible public areas such as shopping centres is a factor. Altitude would have major effects on % of time one is snow bound, and O2 levels may have no effect at all. Having grown up at 1200m I found heart and lung capacity increased to the extent that at lower altitudes my rest pulse rate dropped well below my standard 48/min. If the want to test this theory they could look at people in high altitude areas in north India. This would give a different demographic.
Observer101
How does the use of Marijuana (or INCREASED USE) have an effect? The higher, the higher...?
Edward Vix
Also there's a concentration of LDS population many of these states and LDS membership is known to correlate with high teen suicide rates. Need to compare with areas outside the US.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
I lived at 2400 ft. for many years and I am pretty certain the cause is the great distance of decent retail, especially restaurants.
owlbeyou
The higher the altitude the less people around you? Of course, I'm not talking about really low numbers (like the life of a hermit), but much less than at sea level. This may actually be an American phenomenon.
dougspair
...so, what's the suicide rate for....Nepal?
JeffK
I was born and raised in Helena, Montana, elevation roughly 4,000 feet. Graduated high school in 1969 and, though the draft loomed large with the Vietnam War ongoing, I don't recall any suicides in our school with a student body around 1,600. Most of us enjoyed the outdoors and participated in skiing, hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, camping, etc. Firearms were ubiquitous, as was knowledge of their proper and safe use. We were generally respectful of our environment. Among my close friends, only one lived with a single parent, (his father had died of cancer). Most of our parents had lived through the Great Depression and many were veterans. Bullying was minimal and people that stood up to bullies were respected, not booted from school for defending themselves. We had a school rifle club and one of the local schools had a shooting range in the basement. During hunting season it was common for students to have rifles and/or shotguns in their cars or trucks as they hit the field in the early morning or after school. We were taught in school that we lived in a country that was great because it was good, though certainly not perfect. Now, kids are bullied physically and via the internet, and if they defend themselves or stand up for another they are likely expelled because of "zero-tolerance" policies. They're taught that humans are destroying the planet and white males in western countries are to blame for most everything. The United States consumes more than its share of the world's resources and that climate change will destroy us. Boys are drugged for acting like boys and there's seeming confusion about what new gender group you belong to. This just scratches the surface, so is it really a great surprise that adolescents are killing themselves in record numbers? Sometimes we look too hard for answers that are right under our noses.