Why the suicide epidemic in Utah?

Utah is the number one state for antidepressant use and has disproportionately high rates of suicide. Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist, believes he knows why.

Utah residents and experts are aware of the paradox, often attributing gun use, low population density and the area's heavy Mormon influence as potential factors. But Renshaw thinks he's identified a more likely cause for the Utah blues: altitude.

Renshaw believes that altitude has an impact on our brain chemistry, specifically that it changes the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two key chemicals in the brain that help regulate our feelings of happiness. America's favorite antidepressants (and party drugs) work by controlling the level of these chemicals in the brain. The air in Utah, one could say, works just like this.


Utah lies in a region of the country commonly known as the Rockies, the mountain states or even just "out west." To those who analyze violent death data, it's known as the "suicide belt."

According to the National Violent Death Reporting System, a surveillance system run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah and other states in the Rockies consistently have the highest suicide rates in the country aside from Alaska. In the map below, the block of red — states with suicide rates over 14 per 100,000 people — is hard to miss.

Of course, correlation isn't causation, but the article delves into lots of evidence that, at a minimum, is eye-opening and compelling.