Once again, Utah has been named the “most depressed state” in America by Mental Health America, which has reopened the debate over what effect, if any, the prevailing LDS religion and culture have on depression.
I’m not exactly an unbiased observer, as I was diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago, and I lived for 40 years within the LDS religion and culture. However, not being an expert in mental health, I’m reluctant to assign a causal relationship between Mormonism and depression. That said, a couple of statements in the article stood out.
“‘The truth is, we don’t know why,’ said Dr. Ted Wander, spokesman for the Utah Psychiatric Association.” That seems the most honest response to this issue. There are a lot of factors, and at this point no one really knows exactly how to explain the prevalence of depression in Utah.
But then we get the following from Brent Scharman, head of LDS Family Services:
“It always boils down to the issue of what influence the LDS lifestyle has on the depression phenomenon. … Non-LDS and some LDS people say this is a kind of driven lifestyle and that we push too hard and smile too much. But studies show, and those living it out see, that religion is good support. It creates a positive network and helps people get through crises and deal with long-term problems.
“Are there people who feel ‘I’m not living up to the LDS ideal,’ or ‘I’m not living up to my family’s expectations’? Absolutely, there is no question. But having done counseling outside the LDS community, I saw people there, too, who were depressed because of perfectionism,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it is any worse here than in more diverse communities.”
Notice how he immediately dismisses the idea that Mormonism is a “driven lifestyle” that pushes too hard and demands smiling acceptance. Anyone who has ever had any contact with Mormons knows that about Mormons. We are indeed driven and pushed and told to keep smiling through it all. We were always told that other people were watching us, and we needed to be an example at all times and in all places. The denial here is sickening.
Next Scharman does a nifty sleight-of-hand wherein he says that studies show that religion in general is “good support,” and believers see that in their lives. Given that Mormons make up less than one percent of the world’s population, how are we to apply studies of religious believers in general to such a small group? Is Mormonism really a good support? It depends on whom you ask, I suppose.
Next he acknowledges that “some” Mormons may feel like they aren’t living up to the LDS ideal. None of us were, Brent. The whole point of the religion is to make you feel like you need Mormonism to be a better person, but you never get to that state. If people actually felt like they were living up to the lifestyle, they wouldn’t need the church. Besides, Mr. Scharman tells us, other people struggle with perfectionism, too. No kidding.
Scharman’s response is about what I would expect from the LDS church: spin that removes Mormonism from the equation entirely. And when your goal is to protect the church, you aren’t exactly providing “services” to families and individuals.