Suicide Risk 'Increases with Altitude'

      September 17, 2010 11:13

      People who live at high altitudes are more likely to commit suicide than those who live in lower areas, according to a new study.

      The study was led by Perry F. Renshaw, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine, and Kim Nam-kug, a radiology professor at Asan Medical Center, University of Ulsan College of Medicine. They found the trend in analysis of data on 592,000 people who committed suicide in the U.S. between 1979 and 1998 and 47,000 in Korea between 2005 and 2008.

      According to the study, people living at altitudes of 1,000 meters above sea level or higher were 34 percent more likely to commit suicide than those living below that level in the U.S., and 63 percent in Korea.

      Although there are no towns or cities in Korea located at 1,000 m or higher, the results were calculated by analyzing the relationship between suicide rates and altitude in the country, Kim said.

      The researchers suggest that the reason for the correlation may be hypoxia, or inadequate oxygen intake. Oxygen makes up 21 percent of the air at sea level, but it drops to 18 percent at the 1,000-meter level. A prolonged stay in a state of mild hypoxia causes mild damage to the brain, and it might trigger depression.

      "The suicide rate is higher in the mountainous regions of northern Italy compared to the coastal south," Kim said. "This is the first study that reveals that altitude may have a bearing on the risk of suicide."

      Meanwhile, Korean towns known for the longevity of their populations such as Gurye and Gokseong in South Jeolla Province and Soonchang in North Jeolla Province are located at high altitudes of 300 to 400 meters.

      The results of the study were published in the September issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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