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Living in high altitudes? Beware of depression, suicide risks

Hilly areas like Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand or high-altitude cities such as Bangalore, Dehradun or Shimla may be picturesque and increase health and happiness but researchers have found recently that people living in the high-altitude areas are prone to depression and increased rates of suicide, due to decline in oxygen levels in their blood.

Known as Chronic hypobaric hypoxia, the condition is seen when blood oxygen levels decline due to low atmospheric pressure, which in turn trigger suicidal thoughts among the people living in altitudes of more than 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the sea level.

Suicide and major depressive disorder (MDD) are caused by sociodemographic and environmental conditions, said Brent Michael Kious, researcher at the University of Utah. Hypobaric hypoxia increases depression by altering serotonin metabolism and brain bioenergetics, said the study, published in the journal Harvard Review of Psychiatry.

Apart from these factors, sociodemographic and environmental conditions lead to suicide and major depressive disorder (MDD), noted the study. As of social conditions, several factors such as increased poverty rate, lower income, and divorce among women have been high in the list of immediate triggers to depression and suicide.

Researchers analysed 12 studies in the US, including demograhic data to arrive at the findings about the relationship between suicide or depression and altitude. Those living at higher altitudes had increased suicide rates despite being healthy overall, including less substance abuse and cultural differences, said the study.

Depression can be treated with medical intervention at early states to mitigate the effects of altitude providing 5-hydroxytryptophan, which increases serotonin levels, or creatinine to influence brain bioenergetics, the study noted.

So, those living in hill stations in India located in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya in the Himalayas and in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala should watch their health now from these factors.

Some of the specific cities which are at a high altitude are:

Srinagar (J&K)

Jammu  (J&K)

Shimla (HP)

Dehradun (Uttarakhand)

Badrinath (Uttarakhand)

Shillong (Meghalaya)

Darjeeling (West Bengal)

Bangalore (Karnataka)

Ooty (Tamil Nadu)

Araku (AP)


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