What if Utah were an island? OK, I know what you’re thinking, but I mean the kind of island that is near sea level, surrounding by lovely beaches and not towering mountains. Given the growing evidence that altitude is one of the strongest factors related to suicide rates, not just in the US but around the world, what would Utah’s statistics look like? Right now they are pretty bad. Utah is #5 in the nation with a rate of 21.8 per 100,000. Ouch, that’s terrible, much like the terrible rates in other high altitude states. Here’s the top ten and their rates per 100,000:
1. Montana — 26
2. Alaska — 25.4
3. Wyoming — 25.2
4. New Mexico — 22.5
5. Utah — 21.8
6. Nevada — 21.4
7. Idaho — 21.3
8. Oklahoma — 20.9
9 (tie). Colorado — 20.5
9 (tie). South Dakota — 20.5
You can see the LDS population of these states in Wikipedia’s page on LDS population in the U.S., and then on their page for LDS population in various countries, you can see national statistics for much of the world, and these can be compared to suicide statistics for various countries for an interesting exercise in looking at the complexity of suicide.
As I thought about island states or countries, I considered Hawaii, with a rate of 12, giving it a rank of 41 in the U.S. Not bad. Hawaii’s 5.2% LDS population does not seem to be domoralizing the population all that much. But then I remembered Samoa. American Samoa has a sizable LDS population. I was almost afraid to look at the suicide statistics because I had the image of a country with a poor economy and big, aggressive men under a lot of pressure. Surely the news wouldn’t be good. To my surprise, American Samoa, with 40% Latter-day Saints, has a suicide rate of 5.4, less than half that of Hawaii. A fluke? Then comes Tonga, with 60% LDS population — more LDS than Utah! — and yet its suicide rate is even lower than American Samoa: 4.0, ranked #156 in the world.
Yes, I know, the culture is much different and guns are not abundant, but it shows that a high LDS population is not necessarily driving people to suicide. Maybe a change in altitude could be a good thing for those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Maybe Tonga or Samoa is the place for you?
Yet both island nations face increasing trouble with suicides and they, like all
nations, have more work to do to reduce the tragedy of suicide.
- Andreas Illmer, “What’s behind New Zealand’s shocking youth suicide rate?,” BBC, June 15, 2017.
- “Males Dominate Suicide Victims in Tonga,” Loop Tonga, Sept. 10, 2016.
- Donald H. Rubinstein, “Suicide in Micronesia and Samoa: A Critique of Explanations,” Pacific Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 (March 1992).
- Luke Ramseth, “University of Utah research shows high altitude linked to depression and suicidal thoughts,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 2018.