Living high, but feeling low? Study says that living in high-altitude areas increases your risk of depression

New systemic research based on 12 studies and published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry revealed that the incidents of depression and suicide among people who live in high-altitude states like Arizona are higher than those in low-altitude areas.The researchers from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City explained that low atmospheric pressure in high altitudes may lower blood oxygen levels and influence mood, thus making people in the said area more prone to suicidal thoughts.

Lower oxygen levels, or hypoxia, can affect our body’s metabolism of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts mood and may help shield people from mental issues. Many studies suggest that chronic hypoxia stimulates mood disturbances, especially among the emotionally unstable.

This finding can also explain why the highest suicide rates were found in intermountain states located between 2,000 to 3,009 feet above sea level. Aside from Arizona, these states consist of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The researchers also noted that the said states showed a lower rate of death from other causes.

Major depression, a leading factor in suicide, is a mental health condition that affects around 16 percent of people at some point in their lives. It exists when a person has at least two weeks of low mood, self-esteem, and energy.

Rates of major depression differ significantly from one region to the next, suggesting that environmental factors are important in the anatomy of major depression and suicide.

The environment is not the only cause of depression and suicide, of course. Leading primary care doctor and book author Alex Lickerman lists the following additional causes:

  • Schizophrenia¬†— Schizophrenia patients admit hearing malevolent inner voices that order them to self-harm for irrational reasons. Schizophrenia often afflicts otherwise healthy, high-performing persons.
  • Impulsiveness — Some people, especially those who take drugs and alcohol, can impulsively try to take their own lives. But once they become sober or someone calms them down, these impulsive people feel ashamed of themselves. Although the remorse is real, this may not keep them from attempting suicide again. Another drunken episode or bout with illegal drugs can push them to the brink once more. Others, however, learn their lesson and never try to take their own lives again.
  • They’re desperate for help, but don’t know how to get it —¬†Some people don’t want to actually take their own lives, but just want others to know that something is seriously wrong. Often, they don’t think they will die, and usually, choose methods that won’t actually be lethal.
  • They’ve bungled big-time — A high-ranking bank executive loses a court case. A high roller loses millions in the casino. They’ve made a big mistake, and don’t know how to correct it. So they decide to end it all.

Suicide is preventable as long as the causes are treated, and help arrives on time. It’s a matter of knowing the causes and acting on them.

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