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High Suicide Rates Persist In Mountain West

In Mountain West states, high altitude can contribute to higher suicide rates.
Bureau of Land Management Montana and Dakotas
In Mountain West states, high altitude can contribute to higher suicide rates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the U.S. life expectancy continues to decline. This trend is driven in part by an increase is drug overdoses and suicide. The Mountain West is especially vulnerable when it comes to suicide.

Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country slightly ahead of Alaska and Wyoming. Utah, Idaho and Colorado are also in the top ten.

Karl Rosston, suicide prevention coordinator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said the region shares a number of high-risk factors including; large populations of veterans and middle-aged white men, a number of Native American reservations and an abundance of firearms. High altitude which can reduce serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, is also a factor.

"In Montana, the average suicide occurs at about 3,500 feet," he said. "Our top counties for suicide in our state are all above a mile high."

Montana is focused on solutions that people can control like safe gun storage and getting treatment, said Rosston.

"Suicide is the end result of a much bigger issue and that's usually undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues especially depression and depression is very treatable," he said.

When it comes to mental health, stigma is also a big issue in the Mountain West. Rosston said residents have a "cowboy mentality" and don't like to talk about their problems.

Copyright 2018 KUNC

I grew up in Denver and, after living out-of-state for many years, am happy to be back in Colorado covering education and general news for KUNC.