Record suicide toll rocks Colorado. Could altitude be to blame?

Posted on January 11, 2012

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Among the stark statistics:

  • The toll marked a 17 percent increase over the next highest year, 2007, and the highest suicide rate per capita in Colorado since 1988.
  • Nearly twice as many people died by their own hands last year as those who died in car accidents.
  • Almost 80 percent of those who committed suicide were men.
  • While the state no longer tracks suicides specifically among ranchers or farmers, the suicide rate is disproportionately high in Colorado’s rural counties.
  • While the suicide rate is higher in rural Colorado, the number of suicides is greater in more populated, urban areas.
  • Colorado consistently ranks among the top 10 states in the country for suicide.
  • In 2007, the last year for which national statistics are available, Colorado had the sixth highest suicide rate in the country.

Now, a new study may help explain the high suicide rates that have long confounded mental health workers in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West.

Dr. Perry Renshaw, a psychiatrist at the University of Utah’s Brain Institute and an investigator with the Veterans Affairs Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center based in both Salt Lake City and Denver, has found a new overwhelming link between high altitude locations and suicide. The study could have profound implications for suicide prevention in Colorado – the state with the highest average altitude in the country.

“At 6,000 feet (above sea level) suicide rates increased by approximately 70 percent. It’s huge,’’ said Renshaw, the lead researcher on the study.

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