High rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and addiction have been linked to places with high elevation.

But why?

A Wyoming PBS series is exploring this question.

You can watch episode 1 in the video below.

For some odd reason, there appears to be a correlation between suicide and altitude.

A study was conducted of 50 counties with the highest suicide rates.

Also 50 counties with the lowest suicide rates.

For reasons not yet known there was an almost eight-fold difference in altitude.

Countries above 4,000 feet have twice the amount of suicides as counties at 2,000 feet.

The highest suicide rates are in countries above 9,000 feet.

Mountain West states like Wyoming have persistently higher rates.

Other states include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

The research is not considered definitive.

Researchers commonly say “Correlation does not imply causation.”

According to Dr. Frank Lotrich, medical director at West Springs Hospital, the prevailing hypothesis, is that when you go to sleep, your breathing slows down. At high elevations, there is less oxygen in the air, and oxygen deprivation night after night may lead to increased mental illness, depression, and suicide.


A University of Utah project examined 12 studies and found “increased suicide rates might be explained by blood oxygen levels due to low atmospheric pressure."

Vincent Atchity, executive director of Mental Health Colorado suggested it has to do with “the vastness of space and human diminishment in scale,” Or isolation may be a factor. (SBP).

“In a dense urban population, you are more likely to find people of your ilk,” Atchity hypothesized. Where populations are greater, “the prospect of having a network of people is numerically great. In a small population in the vastness of space, it could feel like you are the only human like you.” (SBP).

But suicide is complex. Mental health professionals caution against simple explanations.

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