Doctor will discuss connection between altitude and depression |

Doctor will discuss connection between altitude and depression

Perry Renshaw studies changes the brain undergoes at high elevations

The mountains are where many people go to find peace of mind, which is why Dr. Kelly Woodward is surprised by the suicide rate in high-altitude regions.

“There is recognition that there seems to be a correlation between living at higher altitudes and depression,” said Woodward, the medical director for Park City Hospital’s LiVe Well Center. “In the mountain states — New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah — there are pretty high suicide rates.”

Many elements contribute to depression, Woodward said, adding altitude is one component that should be studied. Admitting he’s not an expert on the research between living at high elevations and suicide rates, Woodward is pleased the hospital will host a lecture about the subject by Dr. Perry Renshaw, professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah.

“Utah: The Saddest and Happiest State in the USA,” is one of many events for Connect’s Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Connect is a nonprofit working to overcome the challenges of mental illness.

The lecture is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10, at the hospital’s Blair Education Center.

Renshaw runs a laboratory where he explores the association between suicide rates and communities’ altitudes. His hypothesis is that the brain undergoes metabolic changes at a higher altitude. He argues the changes lead to mood disorders.

“The amount of oxygen we breathe above 6,000 feet is about 20-plus percent lower than the amount of oxygen we breathe at sea level,” Woodward said. “Oxygen has an effect on serotonin levels, and we know having a lower serotonin is associated with a depressed mood.”

Renshaw studies altitude’s effects on mental health by using magnetic resonance spectroscopy to identify changes in brain chemistry. Woodward said he is eager to learn of the psychiatrist’s recent findings.

“Getting an update from one of the latest researchers in our community is a great opportunity,” Woodward said.

A Q&A with Renshaw and Dr. Melissa Lopez-Larson will take place after the lecture. Lopez-Larson, a psychiatrist at Park City Hospital, will also talk about community resources available to those who feel depressed or anxious.

Woodward said it’s important to encourage a conversation about the information Renshaw will provide.

“It’s not all about transmitting,” Woodward said. “It’s about having a discussion and having conversations about these important topics. The hospital is here to help people with these issues being discussed for the events Connect has planned.”

The goal of Connect’s Mental Health Awareness Month is to show people ways to maintain mental and emotional stability. There are about 20 free talks, films and panel discussions planned throughout May.

Visit to RSVP for Renshaw’s lecture and to learn about Connect and its month of events.

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