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Can High Altitudes Increase The Risk Of Depression?

Topic Overview

Studies have opined that of late there have been high incidences of suicidal ideations and depression in the mountainous terrain across the United States. This opinion was made in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Another article written by a physician and his colleagues at the University of Utah suggested that this alarmingly high rate of depression and suicide may have a direct link with low blood oxygen levels as a result of low atmospheric pressure in the mountains.[1]

Further research is pending pertaining to the relationship between low oxygen levels in the body and a reduced atmospheric pressure. The results of these studies may help in determining the treatment strategies that can be adopted to cut down the suicidal ideations and depression among people living at high altitudes. This article gives an overview of how high altitude is linked with depression and suicidal risk.[1]

Can High Altitudes Increase The Risk Of Depression?

Can High Altitudes Increase The Risk Of Depression?

The researchers studying the effects of low atmospheric pressure on the oxygen levels in the blood came to a conclusion that high altitudes lower the oxygen levels. This in turn affects the overall mood and mental state of an individual and makes them vulnerable to conditions like depression.[2]

An individual is more likely to attempt or even commit suicide if he or she is overly depressed. Studies suggest that around 20% of people have this feeling at some point or the other during their lifetime. A person is said to be depressed if he or she tends to feel low and be sad for over a two week period.[2]

During this time, the individual will also have low self-esteem and lack of energy to do any task at home or at work. There will always be a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Studies have also suggested that the suicidal rates are significantly variable from region to region. This again proves that there are certain environmental factors which are at play in depression and suicidal ideations.[2]

Research suggests that in the United States around 120 people commit suicide every day. Majority of these people were from mountainous regions. The researchers analyzed data of around 10 studies which explored the relationship between high altitude and depression with suicidal ideations. The results of the analysis were quite alarming in that there was a strong correlation between suicides and depression and people living in high altitudes.[2]

They reported that highest rates of suicide were observed to be in the mountain states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. It was identified that there was an increased rate of suicides in people living at altitudes of over 3000 feet.[2]

It has been proven beyond doubt that people with a gun in their possession have greater tendency to commit suicide but the result these studies where there was a clear association of high altitude with suicide even surpassed that. However, studies also suggest that while the tendency to commit suicide is higher in people living in high altitudes the rate of the fatalities due to any cause is much less than people living in the plains.[2]

Additionally, the studies that were analyzed by the researchers did not take into account the cultural differences and substance abuse which is a major factor in increasing depression rates especially in teenagers and young adults. The researchers came up with an opinion that increased depression and suicides in people with high altitudes can be attributed to a condition called chronic hypobaric hypoxia.[2]

This condition occurs when the levels of oxygen in the blood decreases due to atmospheric pressure. It has been proven that hypobaric hypoxia can result in significant brain damage. They suggested that this condition can affect the processing of serotonin in the brain which can adversely affect the mood of an individual leading to depression and suicidal ideation.[2]

In conclusion, there are studies which have pointed towards an association between high altitudes and depression with suicidal ideations. This is based on the research done on the number of suicides committed in the mountainous regions of United States.[2]

The link has been attributed to a medical condition called chronic hypobaric hypoxia in which the blood oxygen levels in the body becomes low due to reduced atmospheric pressure encountered at high altitudes.[2]

The low level of oxygen impacts the way serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is related to the mood, is processed by the brain leading to increased incidences of depression and suicidal ideations.[2]


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 17, 2019

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