To understand why our recent story on suicide in ski towns resonated so profoundly within mountain communities, we examined the 80 comments. 

A winter storm lifts off a ranch below the Sneffels Range near Telluride, Colorado. 

 
PHOTOGRAPH BY BEN KNIGHT 

By Kelley McMillan

PUBLISHED JUNE 13, 2016

More than 30,000 people take their own lives each year in the United States, and nowhere, aside from Alaska, is suicide more prevalent than in the Rocky Mountain West. But even within the inter-mountain region, some of the country’s most idyllic ski towns—places like Aspen, Colorado—have suicide rates well above state and national averages.

In an effort to bring light to this alarming phenomenon, on May 16, National Geographic Adventure published a story...

The West’s mountain towns, from Jackson to Taos, Silverton to Park City, Truckee to Ketchum, tend to float to the top of what I’ll call Listicles of Happiness: Those inane rankings of the “best towns” in the nation, whether it’s the best small towns, the best ski towns or, a recent favorite to hate, “20 Colorado Mountain Towns That Are Paradise in Winter,” the writers of which have some fetish for stoplights, or the lack thereof. Judging from these lists, we mountain townies are a joyous bunch, working high-paying jobs that not only allow us to follow our passion, but also to go fly fishing on our lunch break, mountain bike after that (without stoplights to slow us down!), and then, fueled by a runner’s high, party long into the night....

Abstract

Brenner, Barry, David Cheng, Sunday Clark, and Carlos A. Camargo, Jr. Positive association between altitude and suicide in 2584 U.S.counties. High Alt. Med. Biol. 12: 31–35 2011.—Suicide is an important public health problem worldwide. Recent preliminary studies have reported a positive correlation between mean altitude and the suicide rate of the 48 contiguous U.S.states. Because intrastate altitude may have large variation, we examined all 2584 U.S. counties to evaluate whether an independent relationship between altitude and suicide exists. We hypothesized that counties at higher elevation would have higher suicide rates. This retrospective study examines 20 yr of county-specific mortality data from 1979 to 1998. County altitude was o...

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. In the next 20 years, it's expected to cause more than 2 million deaths per year worldwide, ranking 14th in the world as a cause of death.

There are many factors known to affect an individual's risk for suicide. For example, people who are older, male, white, divorced, low-income, isolated or who abuse substances are all at higher risk. Psychiatric illness, mood disorders and lack of social support are also recognized risk factors.

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Several studies have demonstrated geographic variations in suicide patterns in the U.S., with higher suicide rates in western states. Our ongoing research expands on those findings, showing that Americans who live in higher-altitude counties are at a...

We can't normalize bigger, faster, farther anymore 

It’s time to call bullshit on progression.

Too many of us are beholden to social-media expectations, the subjective scoring of action sports, and a desire to push increasingly out-there limits. Mountain bikers who once explored the woods to simply blow out the lungs now time their descents with Strava. Climbers who used to clip in and coach partners on big walls now free solo for sponsor dollars driven by Instagram. To impress followers, backcountry skiers accustomed to safe low-angle hippie pow followed by hibachi beers now yo-yo laps on the Grand Fucking Teton.

Increasingly, what we do outside is less about enjoying the activity itself as an intrinsic good, and more about planning ways to go big...

Living in Utah means packed powder in April, canyoneering in the clouds, snow-capped vistas so vivid they look Photoshopped — and the shortest average work week in the country. So it's not surprising that surveys show how much Utah residents love their outdoorsy, adventure-filled state.

But there's another side to Utah that isn't shown in surveys. Despite ranking as America's happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it's the No. 1 state for antidepressant use. These polarized feelings of despondency and delight underlie a confusing phenomenon that Perry Renshaw, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah investigating the strange ju...

SUICIDE ON THE MOUNTAIN

Tusker Trail Mountains Category

Dark Side of the Mountain

With their piercing light and closeness to the gods, mountains have always been associated with eternal life.   In some ancient cultures mountains were regarded as sacred and a place to bury the dead. Their religious significance comes in many forms. Jews, Christians and Islamists all agree Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments in his backpack.

There is a darker, contemporary side of the mountain, a place where people go to kill themselves.

Mountain suicide is a global phenomenon that mental health researchers, forestry officials and those morbid enough to specialize in suicidolgy are trying to figure out.  Today’s mountain suicides may be l...

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US. In the next 20 years, it's expected to cause more than two million deaths per year worldwide, ranking 14th in the world as a cause of death.

There are many factors known to affect an individual's risk for suicide. For example, people who are older, male, white, divorced, low-income, isolated or who abuse substances are all at higher risk. Psychiatric illness, mood disorders and lack of social support are also recognized risk factors.

Several studies have demonstrated geographic variations in suicide patterns in the US, with higher suicide rates in western states. 

Our ongoing research expands on those findings, showing that Americans who live in higher-altitude counties are at a higher risk fo...

The eight intermountain states of the American West, sometimes called the Suicide Belt, have high elevations and the associated thin air. Now, researchers say the low oxygen in these areas is linked with signs of depression, and could potentially even contribute to suicides in some regions.

In 2012, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico all had suicide rates exceeding 18 per 100,000 people, while the national rate was 12.5 per 100,000 people, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

These states tend toward higher elevations, and several studies have identified living at higher elevations as an independent risk factor for suicide. Other studies have also found that rates of depression increase...

There are many known risk factors associated with suicide: those who take their own lives are statistically more likely to be white, male, and/or low-income. Surveys show that they are also more likely to have histories of depression, own fire arms and feel isolated. Many are divorced or have substance abuse problems. But a team of researchers found another risk factor that is less intuitive, even though it may be just as valid: living at a high altitude.

The team, lead by Dr. Barry Brenner from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland Ohio, analyzed 19 years worth of cause-of-death data from all 2,584 U.S. counties (between 1979 and 1998). In their study, published in High Altitude Medicine & Biology, they compared the 50 counti...

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