10

According to the article There's a Suicide Epidemic in Utah — And One Neuroscientist Thinks He Knows Why:

... Despite ranking as America's happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it's the No. 1 state for antidepressant use. These polarized feelings of despondency and delight underlie a confusing phenomenon that Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah investigating the strange juxtaposition, calls the "Utah paradox."

Utah residents and experts are aware of the paradox, often attributing gun use, low population density and the area's heavy Mormon influence as potential factors. But Renshaw thinks he's identified a more likely cause for the Utah blues: altitude.

Renshaw believes that altitude has an impact on our brain chemistry, specifically that it changes the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two key chemicals in the brain that help regulate our feelings of happiness. America's favorite antidepressants (and party drugs) work by controlling the level of these chemicals in the brain. The air in Utah, one could say, works just like this.

The article cites:

In a 2011 study1 published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a group of researchers, including Renshaw, analyzed state suicide rates with respect to gun ownership, population density, poverty, health insurance quality and availability of psychiatric care. Of all the factors, altitude had the strongest link to suicide — even the group of states with the least available psychiatric care had fewer suicides than the highest-altitude states, where psychiatric care was easier to find.

The article and study detail the methodology and underlying theory, but I am interested here in knowing whether the statistics correlating altitude with suicide are corroborated in places outside the USA (where deviations are not explained by other factors).

Do we see similarly relatively higher suicide rates in the mountains of Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America?

  1. Altitude, Gun Ownership, Rural Areas, and Suicide, The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 168 Issue 1, January 2011, Namkug Kim, et al.
  • 1
    Freakonomics (well "Think like Freak" more precisely) looked into the research on the topic. A major factor is "nobody left to blame" which - if Utah is indeed a happy and prosperous state - maybe that factor is exactly what's in play in Utah – user5341 Nov 24 '14 at 18:16
  • It has to do with air pressure, moisture, melanin, IQ and suicide. All other answers are unnecessarily vague and complicated. kon.org/urc/v8/zambrano.html – D J Sims Mar 27 '16 at 1:51
  • @DavePhD Hydrogen peroxide in atmospheric moisture is a much more powerful oxidant than oxygen alone – D J Sims Mar 27 '16 at 1:54
2

Yes, correlation between altitude and suicide is corroborated by studies outside the USA.

See High altitude remains associated with elevated suicide rates after adjusting for socioeconomic status: a study from South Korea Psychiatry Investigation (2014) vol. 11, pages 492–494.

We found that there is a positive correlation between altitude and suicide rate, even after adjustment for mean income. Thus, altitude appears to be an independent risk factor for suicide.

Suicide Mortality in Andalusia, Spain: geographical Distribution and Relationship with Antidepressants, Altitude and Socioeconomic Inequalities (2015)

Central areas and in those with the highest altitude concentrate the highest suicide rates

and Does altitude moderate the impact of lithium on suicide? A spatial analysis of Austria Geospatial Health (2013) vol. 7, pages 209-18.

Altitude was found to be positively associated with suicide mortality.

On the other hand, Altitude, immigration and suicide rates: a study from Turkey Psychiatry Investigation (2013) vol. 10, pages 89–91:

We did not found [sic] any association between altitude and suicide

  • It seems that there's a major flawed assumption: while Utah has some moderately high elevations (highest point is Kings Peak at 13,527 ft, per Google), the great majority of the population lives at much lower elevations. About 80% of the population (again per Google) lives around Salt Lake City, at only an average of 4500 ft or so. – jamesqf Mar 23 '16 at 20:40
  • 1
    @jamesqf But 4500ft is still significantly higher than most of the major cities. New York, LA, Philadelphia, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, Boston, Baltimore, DC, are all at sea level. Only Denver and Albuquerque are at similar elevation to Salt Lake City. – DavePhD Mar 23 '16 at 21:13
  • Obviously one foot above sea level is higher than zero feet, but I don't believe anyone could reasonably call it high elevation. For population centers at high altitudes, you'd need to look at the Himalayas or Andes. Or small towns & ski/resort areas in the US, and then for a fair comparison you'd have to find similar demographics at low/medium elevations. – jamesqf Mar 24 '16 at 4:10
  • 1
    Did these studies account for the fact that high altitude might correlate with how remote a place is? – vartec Mar 24 '16 at 17:24
  • @vartec That's a great question -- also, perhaps, the cost of goods and services since transportation might be more expensive. – Brian M. Hunt Mar 28 '16 at 13:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .