Of course it sounds wonderful to live high on a mountaintop with clean and crisp air, but it may put you at a higher risk of suicide according to new research. Professor of Psychiatry Perry Renshaw, of the University of Utah School of Medicine along with his colleagues have come to the conclusion that higher altitudes result in higher suicide rates based on the well known statistics that support that the Western most states have not only many of the highest elevations, but also the highest rates of suicide. This information is leading professionals to believe that perhaps, there is a correlation.
In the year 2006, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, and Arizona held 9 out of 10 of the highest suicide rates within the United States. Alaska was the remaining state in the top ten suicide rates. Nevada has the highest rate of suicide in the country.
Renshaw, as the study’s lead author and investigator, was interested in knowing why the suicide rate is so much higher in the west. Higher altitude was found to be the strongest factor that researchers could come up with, even though they also believe that there must be some other factor in conjunction with high altitude that is leading to such statistics.
Renshaw and his colleagues began to analyze data taken from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From their database, they pulled information on over 3,000 counties within the lower 48 states as well as the District of Columbia. Renshaw was then able to conclude that high altitude is a definite independent suicide risk factor. This particular association, Renshaw believes, may have taken place as effects of what is known as mild hypoxia, inadequate oxygen intake, and metabolic stress within people who have preexisting mood disorders.
In simple terms, people who already suffer from depression or anxiety for instance will be at a higher risk of committing suicide if they live in a place that is at higher than average altitude. Also included in this study was the fact that the western states also have higher gun ownership rates which is also a common factor in suicide. The western states also have lower densities of people, and since suicide is more common in rural places, this may be connected to the manner in which altitude can influence the rates of suicide. However, further evaluation concluded that low population density and the rates of gun ownership do not explain the high suicide rates that exist at high altitudes.
The University of Utah’s Professor of Psychiatry, William McMahon stated that it has been a very daunting task to carefully evaluate the environmental as well as genetic factors that can lead to suicide within the state of Utah and the other mountain states in the surrounding area. However, McMahon believes that this study definitely will prove to be a milestone for future research and knowledge about suicide rates in certain areas and states. The findings of this study will present new and essential areas for further investigation in terms of gaining a better understanding for suicide risk.
Unfortunately however, the reasons for suicide are extremely complex and vary so much that there will likely never be a single factor that professionals will be able to pinpoint for every situation.
Woods, T. Ph.D. (2010) High Altitude Means High Suicide Risk.