Utah is the most prescribed state when it comes to antidepressants. Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah, thinks altitude might to blame. Utah also has a significantly higher rate of suicide in comparison to the rest of the country. Renshaw’s study also reviews the Mormon policy on mental health and how they have intervened with patients obtaining scientifically proven medical aid due to religious belief.
Renshaw discovered research supporting his theory. Doctors from Case Western University, it turned out, were crunching numbers based on a similar hunch about altitude and suicide. In a 2010 study published in High Altitude Medicine and Biology, the Case Western group analyzed suicide rates across 2,584 counties in 16 states and found that suicides start increasing between 2,000 and 3,000 feet in all U.S. regions. The U.S. isn’t a special case — analysis of suicide rates in other countries, including South Korea and Austria, bore similar results.
Psychology research has also made a connection between mental health and elevation. In a 2005 study, the Naval Health Research Center measured mood changes in Marines who left seaside San Diego for 30 days of strenuous training in the Northern California mountains. Before training, the Marines completed a self-evaluation of their levels of anxiety, dejection, fatigue and bewilderment, among other mood symptoms. They completed the same evaluation after training ended, and then again 90 days later. While their physical fitness improved during training, their mental health disintegrated. Before training, the Marines reported more balanced mood levels than average college-aged men. By the time they finished, they described mood symptoms comparable to those of psychiatric patients. Ninety days later, they were just as sad and agitated.