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Is High Altitude Linked to Suicide Risk?
Date:9/21/2010

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- For years, researchers have observed that U.S. suicide rates appear to be highest among residents of the so-called "Intermountain West" region of the country. Now, fresh research points to a possible explanation: high altitudes.

Other well-observed regional factors, including low population density and the high prevalence of gun ownership, may contribute to the noticeably elevated risk, the study team acknowledged.

But reporting in the Sept. 15 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers say that the metabolic stress that results from the insufficient intake of oxygen -- a common feature of high-altitude living -- could on its own significantly aggravate and contribute to such risk, particularly among people who already struggle with various forms of mood disorders and/or depression.

"There isn't a lot of work that has been done in this area, but asthma and air pollution have been linked in prior research to increased suicide rates around the world," noted study co-author Dr. Perry F. Renshaw, a psychiatry professor at the Utah School of Medicine and an investigator with the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative. "So the physiological environment can play a role in risk. And if there's something about this particular environment that's influencing suicide rates, it's important to know."

According to the study, 20 years of data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that nine Western states -- Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon -- rank among the top 10 in terms of American suicide rates (with Alaska rounding out the list).

Data gathered from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also shows that these states have some of the highest elevat
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