Nov 22, 2010 11:44 PM by Matt Stafford

Is the altitude affecting your attitude?

A study from the University of Utah's School of Medicine says living at a high altitude, like Colorado, could trigger depression, possibly even leading to a higher rate of suicides.

Ralph Lundgren was diagnosed with depression in the 80's. He's thought of suicide off and on, but his depression never goes away.

"It's a constant, but sometimes it gets much worse," Lundgren explains. He says the risk when it does is high.

"...Death," according to Lundgren.

For help, Lundgren has been coming to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Colorado Springs, where they work with about 150 people a week. They get to hear a wide range of things that set people off. Those are the people Larry Ritterband works with everyday.

"Anything could trigger someone going down," Ritterband explains. He's a board member for the Alliance.

Researchers at the University of Utah claim they've found one more trigger; living at high altitudes. They say stress is created from lower oxygen intake levels, called hypoxia, which can add to depression.

Backing up their theory most of top ten states with the highest suicide rates are in the Mountain West, with some of the highest elevations in the country.

Colorado's suicide rate is continually above the national average. In September, the Colorado Department of Public Health announced that there were 940 deaths by suicide in 2009 in the state.

Ritterband sees the high altitude theory as a possible factor, leading to depressive swings or possibly suicide, but many things could be a cause. Also, treatment is tough because there's no singular cure.

"...and we aren't expecting one." Ritterband says, to describe the ongoing nature of his work.

Like Ritterband wears glasses to supplement his vision, he says you have to supplement mood disorders -- through therapy and medication. More than anything else, it's learning to manage your mood; according to Ritterband, that's in a high altitude environment or anywhere else.

For information on the University of Utah's findings, click here.

For resources to deal with depression or suicidal thoughts, follow this link.

More information on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance can be found by clicking here.


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