Eight hundred thousand people died this last year by suicide.
Sept. 10 was designated as World Suicide Prevention Day in 2003 to raise awareness that suicide is preventable and improve suicide education. Suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death, and is is influenced by psycho-social, cultural and environmental risk factors.
And the worldwide issue hits right at home. Even though a Wallethub.com survey ranked Utah as the happiest state in the nation, Utah’s suicide rate has consistently ranked in the top 10 for states nationwide for at least the past 15 years. Utah ranks fifth in the nation for youth suicide with the number one cause being antidepressant usage, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Utah residents and experts attribute gun use, low population density, healthcare unavailability and the area’s heavy Mormon influence as potential factors, according to Brooklyn journalist Theresa Fisher in an article she wrote for Mic.
Another popular theory promoted in that same article by Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah, is that the depression rates are due to Utah’s high altitude.
“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,” Renshaw reported in his American Journal of Psychiatry study. “America’s favorite antidepressants work by controlling the level of these chemicals in the brain. The air in Utah, one could say, works just like this to lower the amount of these important chemicals.”
His theory fits in with the “Suicide Belt” phenomenon, where states in the Rocky Mountain region have higher suicide rates overall, but some don’t think that could be the only cause.
“We can’t say necessarily that there’s something different about Utah that’s putting us above the rest, because it’s all the Rocky Mountain States,” said Andrea Hood, spokeswoman for the Davis County Health Department. “It has to be something more complex than that.”
Tara Aiken, chairwoman of the Utah Chapter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said Utah’s strong religious focus can put a lot of expectations on youth and some of them worry about what happens if they mess up.
“People have this perfection standard,” Aiken said. “We’re not very tolerant, we’re not very accepting. Some of those kids who aren’t part of the predominant culture feel left out and not accepted.”
Whatever the cause, Utah is focusing on prevention programs in state communities and schools by targeting the issue of teen suicide and working to end the stigma associated with this type of death.