The University of Utah’s physical location attracts hikers, skiers and outdoor enthusiasts, but also a group of environmental activists concerned about saving their places of life from climate change.
According to professors and students, the current environment and how it evolves can affect mental health and rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
A researcher and professor in the U Department of Psychiatry, Douglas Kondo is one of the three authors of the research paper entitled “Living High and Feeling Low: Altitude, Suicide, and Depression”. The play explores the effect that increased altitude can have on a person’s mental health.
“The altitude hypothesis was met primarily with incredulous skepticism, with a bit of mixed hostility,” Kondo said. “What’s amazing about this is that I have never spoken to an academic audience… who disagreed with the idea that your morning run is easier and less taxing. sea… So, given that the muscles and the brain tissue use the same enzyme. systems for buffering and generating ATP, I have never been able to understand why the altitude hypothesis meets so much resistance.
He said his co-author, Perry Renshaw, started making flippant observations that inspired the study when he moved to Utah from the East Coast about the mental health of his family, colleagues and friends then. that they lived at higher altitudes.
For the study, they collected data on suicide for 20 years and compared it to topographic data collected from space stations.
“All-cause mortality is inversely correlated with altitude, so in fact, if you don’t have a psychiatric disorder, altitude correlates with longer life, which I think puts the association with suicide in sharper contrast, “Kondo said.
The study also explores the idea that these higher rates of depression may be affected by “low blood oxygen levels related to low air pressure.”
He said that functioning on 20% less sleep, water or food would deeply affect someone, afterwards it would be the same with 20% less oxygen.
Kondo and his fellow researchers are looking at ways to naturally replace “what is lost due to depleted oxygen.”
He said Israeli researchers were studying ways to provide more oxygen to people while they sleep to try and combat the effects of lack of oxygen on mental health.
The “altitude story,” as Kondo called it, also has to deal with serotonin and metabolism. According to research by Shami Kanekar in the U Department of Psychiatry, serotonin levels are also lowered at higher altitudes as well as the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs that work with serotonin, for example SSRIs.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a 2021 report stating that no matter how much producers and countries reduce their carbon emissions, the global temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report also says that if there is no coordinated effort to commit to reducing emissions, the world is in store for an increasingly hot future.
Hannah Taub, a member of Divest U, a group to encourage U to divest its endowment in the fossil fuel industry, said that with the smoke from wildfires and other tangible effects of climate change, the existential fear can be a struggle.
“This IPCC report [that] just released… it looks like it’s okay, 15 years before the shit hit the fan, ”Taub said.
According to the American Psychological Association, 67% of Americans in 2020 said they were somewhat or extremely concerned about the effect climate change will have on the environment.
However, Taub said that even being able to dwell on the existential fear of the climate is a privilege.
“We have time to sit down or panic,” she said. “Other people are trying to get water, or refugees because of the climate, as if it already affects a lot of people in their everyday life. Existential fear is frightening… It immobilizes many of us, and yet we are privileged to experience even these emotions.
The climate catastrophe is also affecting mental health. According to the American Public Health Association, 54% of adults and 45% of children experience depression after a natural disaster.
“We should be really creative in ways to teach others that change can happen and that all hope is not lost, and also to resist the status quo, as if we are experiencing monumental change. [and] it’s really scary, ”Taub said. “There are a lot of unknowns, but we are also active agents of this change. “
Taub said one way to avoid falling into the “existential rabbit hole” is to look at long-running research and journalism, not Instagram infographics that select certain facts and are meant to instill fear.