Hypobaric Hypoxia Induces Depression-like Behavior in Female Sprague-Dawley Rats, but not in Males
The researchers housed rats for a week at simulated altitudes of sea level, 10,000 feet and 20,000 feet using altitude chambers, and at local conditions of 4,500 feet, the elevation of Salt Lake City where the research took place. They then used a widely accepted behavioral test in which depression is gauged by how much persistence rodents demonstrate in a swim test. “In female rats, increasing altitude of housing from sea level to 20,000 feet caused a parallel increase in depression-like behavior,” Kanekar says.http://healthcare.utah.edu/publicaffairs/news/2015/03/03-25-15_KankekarRats.php; full text of study online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4376288/.
The correlation between altitude and high rates of depression and suicide is strikingly obvious in the Intermountain West region of the United States where elevations are considerably higher than in the rest of the country. In 2012, the eight states that comprise the Intermountain West–Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico–had suicide rates exceeding 18 per 100,000 people compared with the national average of 12.5 per 100,000, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The high rates of self-inflicted death in the West have earned the region a gloomy moniker: the Suicide Belt.
“The fact that both depression and suicide rates increase with altitude implies that current antidepressant treatments are not adequate for those suffering from depression at altitude, leading to high levels of unresolved depression that can contribute to higher levels of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts,” says Kanekar.
I know of a couple of people--both of whom are female, which fits the finding of this mice study--dealing with difficult-to-treat depression here in Colorado. (Although most of my regular contacts are LDS, neither of these two people is LDS, which doesn't seem to fit with occasional claims that LDS people are more prone to depression than non-LDS people.) Could their depression be in part due to the lower barometric pressure and oxygen content of Colorado air?
Despite my adoring the mountains, if my daughters were to suffer from chronic depression, I would consider moving to a lower elevation if I couldn't somehow up the amount of oxygen they inhale.