The Intermountain West is renowned for the beauty of its towering mountains and high deserts, but according to new research from an investigator with the University of Utah Brain Institute the region's lofty altitudes significantly influence a deadly problem: the high prevalence of suicides in this part of the country.
In the Sept. 15, 2010, online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, Perry F. Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, professor of psychiatry at the U School of Medicine and an investigator with Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, and colleagues report that the risk for suicide increases by nearly one-third at an altitude of 2,000 meters, or approximately 6,500 feet above sea level.
The Western states have some of the highest average elevations in the nation and, according to data derived from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), also the highest suicide rates. In 2006, the latest year for which national data was available, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon accounted for nine of the 10 highest suicide rates in the country. Alaska also was in the top 10 in suicide rates.
Utah's suicide rate was 10th highest in 2006; Nevada had the nation's highest rate.
The high suicide rates in the West prompted Renshaw, the study's senior author and also an investigator with the Veterans Affairs Rocky Mountain (VISN 19) Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC), to undertake the research. "We thought it was reasonable to ask if some aspect of high altitude is related to suicide," he said. "Altitude was the strongest factor we could find in our study. But we believe there's also some other factor we can't account for yet."
After analyzing data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database with information on 3,108 counties in the lower 48 states and District of Columbia, Renshaw and his colleagues from the University of Utah Brain Institute, Veteran Affairs Salt Lake City Health System, and Case Western Reserve University concluded that altitude is an independent risk factor for suicide, and that "this association may have arisen from the effects of metabolic stress associated with mild hypoxia (inadequate oxygen intake)" in people with mood disorders. In other words, people with problems such as depression might be at greater risk for suicide if they live at higher altitudes.
The researchers also concluded that the West's higher rates of gun ownership, a well-recognized factor in suicide, and lower population density – suicide is more prevalent in rural areas – may be connected with altitude in influencing suicide rates. The study concludes, however, that gun ownership and low population density cannot sufficiently explain the prevalence of suicides at higher altitudes.
William M. McMahon, M.D., professor and chairman of psychiatry at the University of Utah, believes the study represents an important step in understanding the higher suicide rates in the Mountain Region. "Dissecting the many environmental and genetic factors leading to high rates of suicide in Utah and the surrounding mountain states has been a daunting task," he said. "This study is a real milestone."
Deborah A. Yurgelun-Todd, Ph.D., USTAR investigator, U of U professor of psychiatry, and associate director of the VISN 19, , which is based at both the Salt Lake City and Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, stated that "these findings provide a new and important area of investigation for understanding suicide risk."
Utah, which according to the study has the third highest average altitude in the country – 1,940 meters or 6,364 feet above sea level – had a rate of 14.1 suicides per 100,000 people in 2006. New data from the Utah Violent Death Reporting System shows suicides in the state are on the rise, increasing nearly 13 percent from 2008 to 2009.
Colorado, the nation's highest state, with an average elevation of 2,200 meters or approximately 7,217 feet above sea level, had 15.8 suicides per 100,000 people, the seventh highest rate. Nevada had the highest suicide rate – 19.6 per 100,000 people.
To verify the study conclusions, Namkug Kim, Ph.D., the study's first author and a former post-doctoral fellow under Renshaw, conducted a similar data study in South Korea and found that the suicide rate in areas at 2,000 meters increased by 125 percent in that country.
The reasons behind suicide are complex. Research has shown that gun ownership and mental illness, such as depression, are significant factors in suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, guns are used in 50 percent of all suicides and more than 60 percent of people who take their own lives have major depression when they complete the act.
Other research has shown that lack of oxygen at higher altitudes is associated with worsening mood that can last for up to 90 days. Understanding the full relationship between altitude and suicide will require much more study, according to Renshaw, who'd like to see epidemiologists look at the issue. "If altitude is related to suicide, then perhaps we could look with greater urgency at why this is true and what we can do to prevent it," he said.
Population density figures used in the study were determined from the same CDC database as suicide rates. Gun ownership data came from the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a large and ongoing telephone health survey system. The average altitude for each state in the study was determined from data developed by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Phil Sahm | EurekAlert!
Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland
Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy