Study Finds Utah Teens are Far More Depressed Than Teens from Other Regions

Study Finds Utah Teens are Far More Depressed Than Teens from Other Regions

Written by Cristo Rogers, Posted on , in Section Therapy News

Utah’s Teens Are Increasingly Becoming More Depressed and Suicidal, Survey Finds

While every demographic in the United States has seen depression rates rise, no other group has become more affected than that of young people - especially those residing in the mountainous regions that make up “The Suicide Belt.”

"It should be shocking to people," - Mike Friedrichs, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health's Bureau of Health Promotion.

The less than affectionately named, Suicide Belt, is a region located in the mountainous Western United States where suicidal depression rates dwarf that of any other region in America. The region is made up of nine states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah.

According to Survey, 25% of Utah Teens are Suicidally Depressed

According to the state’s survey of their student’s mental health, teens from Utah may be among the most devastated demographic of them all.

As previously reported by Deseret News, more than a quarter of adolescents (ages 12-18) in Utah report to having depression that is severe enough for them to potentially take their own lives.

According to Utah’s 2017 Adolescent Mental Health Report, among the 27 percent of suicidally depressed teens, 18.1 percent report they seriously consider committing suicide, with 14.3 percent stating they are planning to kill themselves, and 7.7 percent claiming to have attempted suicide in the past.

Why Are the Suicide Rates Higher Among Mountainous Western US?

Mike Friedrichs on Why the states in The Suicide Belt, such as Utah, are among the most depressed in US.: “We know it's not just one thing, We know that youth are increasingly disconnected. and that's an issue.

As to why states like Utah particularly suffer from depression, experts are still unsure. However, mental health professionals like, Mike Friedrichs, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health’s Bureau of Health Promotion, suggests that factors such as childhood obesity (one in ten Utah teens are obese), which he states, can lead to social-environmental consequences such as bullying, may be one of many potential contributing factors.

However, other studies, like those conducted by the University of Utah also propose other interesting and more scientifically-grounded theories.

According to their newly Harvard Review-published report, a trio of University of Utah concluded that there is a scientifically-backed reason to suggest that the state of Utah’s (as well as the other five states that make up the Suicide Belt)  high elevation may be “specifically associated with increased risk of suicide and depression.”

In their findings, U. researchers state that low atmospheric pressure at high altitudes diminishes blood oxygen levels. Consequently, declining blood oxygen levels affect the body’s production of serotonin - the neural chemical responsible for regulating one’s moods - which they added, “ lower oxygen also impairs energy flows throughout our brains.”

To further add credibility to their findings, the U. Researchers point to other U.S. studies that shared their similar findings regarding the connection between a state’s altitude and rate of depression.

According to one of these studies - which included nearly 9,000 suicides and spanned 15 states - also concluded that states at higher elevations suffered three times higher than those located at or below sea level.  

Among their intriguing findings, the Univ. of Utah researchers also found that the region’s high altitude may also have a negative effect on most common antidepressants, which their report suggests high elevation causes certain medications to become “less effective.”

Other experts suggest that mountainous regions’ “stoic cowboy” mentality and do it yourself machismo may also be contributing factors.

As Past Reports Have Shown, Utah’s Epidemic Rates of Depression and Suicide is Only Getting Worse

These epidemic numbers of suicidally depressed youth in Utah become even more alarming when comparing them to previous years: In 2013 (20 percent), 2015 (24.5 percent).

For the sake of posterity, that’s nearly a 10 percent increase of suicidal teens in the incomprehensibly short span four years’ time.

While we still aren't 100 percent certain as to what causes The Suicide Belt's nationally high number of suicidally depressed teens, further studies, like that of the Univ of Utah's (and other state's similar studies) report, are sure to lead those of us residing in the region to a deeper understanding, and hopefully, a cure for our epidemic melancholy.