The Mountainous States Of The West Aren’t As Happy As You Think They Are

mountain states depression study

Unsplash/Sandis Helvigs

When we think about the mountainous states out west like Colorado and Arizona, we imagine taking blissful hikes every day and enjoying the best work-life balance possible. But new research from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is shedding light on a not-so-fun downside to living in these high-altitude, intermountain states.

According to the study review, there is a clear association between living at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level and higher-than-average rates of both suicide and depression. In analyzing data from 12 studies on the relationship between this environmental factor and mental health, the researchers observed this consistent connection and noticed clusters of these high suicide rates in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

mountain states depression study

Unsplash/Nik Shuliahin

What could be the cause of this connection exactly? Some scientists postulate that the lower atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes reduces the amount of oxygen available in the air, thus lowering overall blood oxygen levels in people who spend their lives in these areas. This state is called chronic hypobaric hypoxia, and it can affect overall mood, potentially making people more prone to suicidal thoughts — especially if they already deal with a depressive disorder of some kind.

While this association is definitely sobering, it’s also worth acknowledging that these same areas have “decreased rates of death from all causes.” So when mental health is removed from the equation, these mountainous regions really are paradise for the health and wellness-obsessed folks out there. Just don’t downplay the importance of good ol’ oxygen when it comes to brain health.