depressed Mormons?

ABC News has up a story about Utah being the most depressed state in the nation. This idea has floated around the blogosphere before and I have to admit I’m not that sold on it. But the evidence seems to be pretty strong at this point – Utahans are depressed. The obvious question – “Is this Mormonism?” – comes to mind. But maybe there is a different way of thinking about this: Are there specific elements of Mormonism that lead to depression? Is this a “Western U.S.” thing and not a Utah thing specifically?


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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32 Responses

  1. Kita Kazoo says:

    I observed that neither of the two LDS owned newspapers published that story. But four days ago they both published stories on how Utah was #1 in the nation for governing.

    I guess reporting real issues aren’t on their agenda.

    Anyone who has taken a ride on the Mormonism roller-coaster and survived will tell you that it is an emotionally draining experience. One can never measure up to the unreasonable and convoluted ideals. There is no room to be a human, eventually the stress does get to you.

    Utah also has one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation, particularly high percentages in the late teen to 20 something young men.

  2. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Agree, +: I’m going to go out a bit here and add that cognitive dissonance may also be a factor.
    the gap between the essentials of Christian principles & LDS practice are enormous, just as the gaps between the claims of the Book of Mormon and archeology/geography.
    The gap between the LGT & the UGT send ya a stark message.

  3. Kullervo says:

    I once heard someone claim that it was because Utah is so far north that people there suffer from SAD in the winter.

    I pretty much thought that was one of the most stupid things I have ever heard. The guy wouldn;t relent, either, even when I pointed out how many states were in fact more northerly (or equally northern) than Utah. Not even when I showed him that Utah was roughly at the same latitude as the Mediterranean.

  4. Seth R. says:

    Wasn’t the study in question based entirely on prescription drug sales in the state as compared to others?

    Seems like an awfully sketchy way of determining depression rates to me.

  5. profxm says:

    Seth, I’m also hesitant to accept this claim. I posted a lengthy treatise on this at back when I frequented their forums (years ago now):

    In that instance I was attacking a paper that was being circulated by some Ponder dude about the high rates of depression among Mormon women. I’m still skeptical, but the news story did cite two sources this time around. Maybe there is some merit to this? Or is this just a rehash of the earlier claims?

  6. PsychMan says:

    I think the stat on Utah and depression is based on the fact that more SSRI antidepressant meds (Prozac, Paxil, etc) are consumed per capita in Utah than in any other US state.

    Very, VERY important to understand that when speaking of depression, that there are two different conditions (unfortunately) with the same name. One is a common or at least normal feeling of sadness, or being ‘bummed’ if you will, when something bad happens: I didn’t get that promotion at work, my kids are a mess, I flunked an exam at school, etc. When that happens, we say we’re depressed by it.

    Then there is another medical condition called clinical depression, or major depressive disorder to be exact, that is also shortened to ‘depression’. It is an internal chemical imbalance in the brain that affects about 15% of the population of the US. This disorder affects mood (e.g., saness) but it also affects concentration, sleep, eating, energy, enjoyment of life, interpersonal relations, and a bunch of other things including suicidal thoughts. This type of depression runs in families so it makes perfect sense that pockets of the population that have high family intermarriages (Jews, Mormons, etc) would have higher than normal rates of clinical depression. While crummy things in life certainly don’t make clinical depression better, they don’t *cause* it.

    One type of ‘depression’ usually sorts itself out with time and support from others, the other requires medical treatment to correct the chemical imbalance. Sort of like the difference between feeling dizzy because we’re hungry (can be reversed easily) and having diabetes (requires medical intervention).

  7. PsychMan says:

    Oops, make that that clinical depression affects mood (e.g. SADness) but also affects other things. Actually, in some rare cases there are psychotic features with major depressive disorder but only rarely.

  8. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    (is it just me?)
    apologists seem to have excuses/end runs around anything that might be derogatory with the faintest connection to LDS.
    just thought U’d like to know….

  9. Seth R. says:

    Yeah, so what Guy?

    If the study is right, it’s right. If it’s screwed up, it’s screwed up. Who cares who the messenger is? Are you saying a person can’t have a legitimately correct opinion just because he’s (gasp) an “apologist?”

    It would be like me trying to discredit everything you say “just because you’re an ‘anti-mormon.'”

    Not a useful way to carry on a conversation bud.

  10. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    SR: Really? (hint: Black & White thinking, don’t you see? “either screwed up or not”)

    Apologists have honed the ‘skill’ of twisting/tweaking what might otherwise be rational thinking/reasoning.

    That’s the Whole Thing about Mormonism: Authority/ the source of info…NOT whether it’s correct or not. What’s IN the book of Mormon (?)is secondary to the way it got to (people) isn’t it? Does it explain the Basics of Christianity better than the Bible? NOT!
    Who else would know more about populations/illness than the drug companies (or pharmacies that dispense)? Mormons are a depressed people because of the ‘on the ground’ way the expectations hang over them + judgmentalism… Many feel they’re on an endless treadmill. (in general) I do agree that the way Western ‘Civilization’ mangles person-to-person priorities & interactions is not healthy; but the latitude/SAD thing shows how squirrely ‘thinking’ can go …. Over the Top!

    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!

  11. Seth R. says:

    So, are you going to actually address my comment?

  12. Seth R. says:

    By the way, as a general observation…

    Clinical depression is it’s own animal and distinct from the usual kind. It’s a diagnosed chemical imbalance in the brain which may or may not have anything to do with a person’s surroundings or the external stresses they are under. In fact, the condition may be more genetic than environmental.

  13. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    My general stmnt is that Momism invites jugmentalism due to its focus on the outward appearances. I’d be the first(?) to admit that tying that to depression is tenuous. The LDS hierarchy gives rewards to those at the top, anxiety to those who don’t ‘progress’… and to their wives since the hierarchy is patriarchically oriented.

    Isn’t it remarkable.. that LDS ‘believe’ that JS translated the BoM by putting his face in his hat, looking at a rock; but the most obvious scientific principles or truths are subject to strict scrutiny, down to the last minute details?

  14. Seth R. says:

    Still waiting.

  15. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    Sorry, Seth. I don’t cater to individual taunts. If you don’t get what Ive written above (or, don’t agree), chances are any further elaboration wouldn’t score either.

    and, BTW: I’m not anti-anything, but I am Pro-Truth. That’s enough of a differentiation – oxymoron with Mormonism to last a lifetime.

    here’s part of an amazon review of ‘Standing for Something’ from:

    On various occasions when Mr. Hinckley was asked straightforward questions about basic Mormon doctrines (and history) by media reporters, instead of Standing For Them boldly and unambiguously, Hinckley stammered with embarassment, danced around the question and avoided giving a straight answer – trying to sweep those unsightly Mormon beliefs under the carpet… And then in General Conference (after the interviews had aired on TV, making him appear clueless), with a sly wink and a joke of “please don’t think that I don’t know our doctrines”, Hinckley urged his followers to excuse his public cowardice & dissembling.

  16. Seth R. says:

    You are bringing up a ton of material that has only a tenuous connection to what we are actually discussing.

    I asked you a simple question. Is it OK to dismiss correct arguments simply because “an apologist made them?”

    You completely avoided that question and moved onto other criticisms of the Church and I’m still waiting for an answer.

    By the way, I never called you an “anti-Mormon” (though I’m tempted on occasion) because I believe it’s not really a useful avenue of discussion. It’s name calling and doesn’t prove anything.

  17. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    “IF” apologists could be nailed down (on anything) that Might be a serious question. There’s too much ambiguity in most everything church & its supporters propound; the ‘warm & fuzzies’ will Never be ‘proven’ or ‘disproven’; what can be demonstrated is what we have in front of us…. If we can’t agree on that, what’s the use trying to agree on the esoteric, the ‘mystical/magical’ stuff? LDS leaders don’t (when Push comes to Shove) even require Honesty, don’t punish Greed, Deceit, or Hatred, even when they’re straight up.

    “Jesus, protect me from your disciples”

  18. Seth R. says:

    And yet another dodge…

  19. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    the First key to understanding communication(s) is the context (wish I could underline or use italics here).
    The context of messages from the LDS church is, by now, well established:
    members (rank-and-file) are taught to adulate/venerate leaders, and many to do this; I suspect beyond the point of leader-Worship. (example:) I have seen it written that people chased after GBHs vehicle (limo?) when he was leaving speech/talk venues. Members are told not to criticize leaders ‘even if the criticims are true’.
    It has been a recent topic here that the black & white LDS (‘Iron Rod’) get more respect than the grays/greys.
    Do I think that apols can say something true/accurate? Of course they ‘might’; but the tone, the context of what Mo leaders & apols say & write is usually imprecise at best, often ambiguous if not outright obfuscating. If they’re ‘following the prophet’… that (to me, anyway) isn’t exactly a good omen…

    But, you see, even LDS scriptures say that communication should be clear, plain, and presice. True Christians are trying to LIVE yes or no in a ‘maybe’ world.

    I ‘only’ have a Bachelor’s degree; I’m not into the depth of the apol arguments & essays about such things of horses (or tapirs) on N.A.; the existence of bows & swords of ‘fine steel’. So, in the end, my knowledge of this things tends towards the rudimentary….
    All the nonsense about ‘proving’ religion seems wasteful to me from the get-go, we walk by faith (or Not).
    All the wasted effort of apologia confirms One Thing, however: LDS tend towards the details; they appear to have Completely Abandoned the central tenets of mainstream Christian practice, principles-concepts.
    just my 2 cents.

  20. Seth R. says:

    OK, thank you.

    I’ve always said that apologetics is the art of making us not feel stupid for beliefs we hold for entirely unrelated reasons.

  21. alas says:

    The concept that depression is MORE genetic than environmental is not correct. Yes, it does tend to run in families, but it also follows life events. Certain life events, like child abuse almost inevetably cause depression in 90% of those who were abused.

    So, one person, given the right amount of stress will become depressed, while another may resort to murder. But having the genetic Predisposition, is only a predisposition. It takes the envoronment to trigger depression in most people who become depressed. There are a minority of depressed people whom no environmental cause can be found and it is purely chemical. But in the vast majority of people, something in the environment causes stress, and this throws the brain chemicals out of ballance in suceptable individuals.

    So, given the death of a loved one, one person will grieve and with appropriate support will recover. Another person, given the death of a loved one, will grieve and then their brain chemistry goes haywire, and they become depressed.

    So, the constant environmental stress of living up to impossible Mormon standards may very well be a cause of depression in Mormons, especially women. Men may react by withdrawing from the church because the social ties are not as important, while a woman will remain involved and become depressed.

  22. katyjane says:

    I’ve read that depression rates among women are highest for those who stay at home with preschool aged children. I wonder if the fact that LDS women are encouraged not to work–and stigmatized in some areas if they want to go back to work after children–leads to the correlation between Utah having higher depression rates.

    Oh, and alas, I don’t believe your comment that child abuse ‘almost inevitably’ causes depression in 90% of victims. Where did you get that statistic?

  23. Seth R. says:

    Point of clarification – did the study in question claim that these Utah depression rates are a mostly female problem?

  24. katyjane says:

    Seth–No. The studies didn’t look at gender. Women are diagnosed with depression more often than men though, nationally.

  25. Nate Housley says:

    This reminds me of a recent book review I read in the New York Times which investigates a study that placed the US as the 23rd happiest nation. The author’s take was that our constant emphasis on happiness and prosperity was making us anxious and unfulfilled. Similarly, when “happiness” is such a cultural ideal as it is in Utah and when it’s even considered vaguely sinful to not be grinning all day, it can lead one to questioning one’s happiness, not to mention feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, etc. In New York on the other hand, everyone just expects to be miserable.

  26. profxm says:

    60 Minutes had a story on this a few weeks ago and looked quite closely at Denmark addressing similar issues as those you described, Nate. Seems like that’s what the current scientific consensus is.

  27. Rose says:

    The rest of Utah in depression denial are not sold on it either. Especially, the apologists.
    The study was not JUST founded on on Anti-Depressant dispensing volume in Utah. That’s just sustaining note in their death march.

  28. Rose says:

    To PsychMan:

    “Utah Depression” plus “Utah Suicide”……
    ….is “Clinical” Depression.

  29. MormonZero says:

    Okay…I may be way off the mark but I strongly believe that the Mormon depression problem has a lot to do with gender and identity.

    First off I want to point out that there are many reasons why people may battle depression but my point is that “gender identity” in the church only heightens the problem.

    What I see is this. Mormon women are receiving the two different views of what a woman should do with her life; the “world” view and the “Mormon” view. This can create both obvious and subtle internal conflicts. Then as a young woman grows up she is only taught to stay sexually clean, get married, and have babies. Not only do these teachings do a 180 on the world view but it does not help a young woman feel any sense of individuality; only conformity. If she goes in any direction contrary to the message she has been indoctrinated with she insinctively reacts with emotions such as guilt, shame, and depression. But then if she does manage to do exactly what she was supposed to do she then gets to here talks like the one by Sister Beck during the most recent General Conference. A Mormon woman is then constantly barraged with this message of how naturally good, pure, clean, and righteous a “woman” is . (I believe this message is partially portrayed in the church in order to compensate for the fact that women do not get the priesthood so the leaders purposely place women on a pedestal of righteousness above men) Unfortunately this is setting up women for unrealistic portrayals and expectations of themselves. (I see it similar to what all these “photoshopped” cover models are doing to women and their self and body imaage). This all helps fuel the fire of depression.

    With the men the problem is similar. But reversed. I will try to simplify this better because I am taking up way too much space. Essentially men are being presented with no expectations and the idea that women are more righteous. But you have the priesthood they tell ya; because you need it more in order to become more “womanlike” with more compassion, tenderheartedness, etc. Men are also not encouraged to be men. Example of this would be to look at nearly any ward calendar. How many activities are there for the youth and for the women. The men? Unless you play church ball or are into scouting you don’t have much to do as a Mormon guy. In the church women get together to do something fun or interesting and it is called “enrichment” but for men who get together to watch a basketball game it is considered a waste of time but that is just what guys do type of thing. Maybe I exaggerated a bit here but I think I am not that far off.

    What is happening is men and women no longer relate to their gender/sex outside of the church without the guilt set on by the church’s “gender indoctrinations.”

    Did I make any sense at all? I don’t think this is 100% of the reason but I believe this has a lot to do with it.

  30. profxm says:

    Hi MormonZero… Yeah, I think this is often the explanation given – the expectations are unrealistic. The problem though – we need good, authoritative research to confirm these assertions. That would be a good study for someone to do.

  31. MormonZero says:

    Yes, that would be nice to have more credible data. Unfortunately all I have is my and others observations.

  32. Tom Clark says:

    It’s fascinating watching mormons getting all worked about anything at all that doesn’t toe the same line they’re toeing. Their hystrionics don’t change the facts though and with Utah having a 70% mormon population you cannot escape the reality that somewhere along the way mormonism is a factor in everything that goes on in their state.

    It’s a smorgasbord mentality though – the things that are flattering are because of mormonism and the things that aren’t flattering have nothing to do with it. How convenient.

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