18 January 2011
High altitude, higher suicide risk
by Kate Melville
The current issue of the journal High Altitude Medicine & Biology contains an analysis of mortality data that reveals a striking correlation between living at higher altitudes and suicide risk.
A multi-institute research team examined cause-of-death data from all 2,584 U.S. counties between 1979 and 1998 and found that, as a group, people living at higher elevations had a statistically significant higher rate of suicide.
The correlation between elevation and suicide risk was present even when the researchers controlled for known suicide risk factors; such as age, gender, race and income. The researchers also suggest that oxygen levels are unlikely to be a factor. "If the mechanism of the suicide-altitude relationship were hypoxia, we would anticipate that there may be increased mood disturbances at high altitude in those with sleep apnea or moderate or heavy smokers at high altitude."
Interestingly, the authors determined that the increased suicide rates at higher altitudes are not part of a broader association between mortality from all causes and living at higher elevations. In fact, the study reveals a significantly lower overall mortality rate at higher altitudes.
The editor of High Altitude Medicine & Biology, John B. West, a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, noted that the finding was "unexpected" and that "the cause is obscure as yet."
Source: High Altitude Medicine & Biology