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More Suicides at High Elevations

But nobody knows why - Suicide rates among middle-aged people are going up and there are more suicides in areas of high elevation (but scientists don't know why). Are people over 30 all moving to the Rockies and finding the STILL can't get a job?

The suicide trend seems to be driven by the entrance of Baby Boomers into middle age, when chronic diseases may arrive, along with the realization that some goals may never be achieved. LiveScience.com quotes sociologist Ellen Idler as saying, "The findings are disturbing, because they're a reversal of a long-standing trend. You might think that the higher rates in adolescence would lead to lower rates later because the most suicide prone people would be gone, but that doesn't appear to be the case" [because] studies show that knowing someone who committed suicide is a risk factor for people who later kill themselves. "The high rates in adolescence could actually be contributing to the high rates in middle age."

It's surprising but true: Suicide takes more lives than homicide, and here's something science can't figure out: Why the risk for suicide increases by nearly one-third at an altitude of 6,500 feet above sea level. In 2006, the latest year for which national data was available, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon accounted for 9 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, and Nevada had the nation's highest rate, meaning that altitude is tangled up as an independent risk factor for suicide.

Psychologist Perry F. Renshaw says 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 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% of all suicides and more than 60% of people who take their own lives have major depression when they complete the act.

Other research shows that lack of oxygen at higher altitudes is associated with worsening mood that can last for up to 90 days, but understanding the full relationship between altitude and suicide will require much more study. Psychologist Perry F. Renshaw says, "We thought it was reasonable to ask if some aspect of high altitude is related to suicide. 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."

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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