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Kirby: Mental health’s tie to thin air just one factor

By Robert Kirby

| Tribune Columnist

First Published Mar 18 2014 07:48 am • Last Updated Mar 31 2014 03:25 pm

A new survey ranks Utah as the nation’s most mentally ill state. Like many of you, I thought it was Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles, but it so happens that we were wrong.

Or not. Past surveys have ranked Utah as 12th, fourth, 125th, 1.5 billionth and even, according to one lone researcher, the most naively blissful state in the universe.

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For the sake of argument let’s agree that Utah is populated largely by nut jobs, primary among them being me. And you.

I live in Utah and I suffer from mental illness. In addition to having attention deficit disorder, being moderately bipolar, criminally immature and having a level of impulse control equivalent to that of a badger, I am also old, eccentric and openly defiant of all forms of authority except my wife.

I take medication for some of this stuff. For the rest, I write a newspaper column, blow #$%@ up and supercharge my grandkids. Seriously, I’m a madman. If you live anywhere within five miles of me, you’re lucky to be alive.

There are a lot of things I could blame my condition on, not the least of which is genetics. I’m a great deal like my maternal grandfather, who was so nuts that he only lived to be 50. An interesting 50, but still just 50.

Some argument could also be made for an erratic childhood. I was dragged all over the Earth by my father’s military career. It’s a bit hard to be emotionally stable when life isn’t.

Finally, maybe it’s because I go to church. A lot of noise gets made by people who say it’s The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints driving everyone crazy in Utah. They might be right. It sure seems to work on them.

Now comes a new aggravator. Who knew that all that horrible stuff could be aggravated by living where the air is thin?

Yep. Research at the University of Utah and other high places suggests a link between altitude and brain chemistry.

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Altitude makes the best sense of all, in large part because it means I can blame my condition on something other than myself. My brain doesn’t function properly because it lacks the necessary oxygen.

Note: It also lacks the inclination but that’s probably another story.

Utah isn’t alone in altitude-related, head-case problems. Right behind us are Idaho and New Mexico. We could blame Mormons for Idaho, but I don’t know what New Mexico’s problem is.

Genetics, social pressure, religious conditioning, filthy air, long winters and now altitude. Why wouldn’t anyone be depressed living in Utah?

The research isn’t a solid lock yet. I was badly disturbed when I moved here. Even when we lived at sea level I hated school. Church was boring then. Oddly enough, the meds I take now don’t make it the slightest bit more interesting.

Maybe I should focus on it just being me. I like that part because it means I’m in charge. I can either do something about it or I can stay nuts, which I plan on doing unless my wife tells me not to.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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