Better living through chemistry

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.

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3 Responses to Better living through chemistry

  1. Reformed_Egyptian says:

    The LDS culture, as you so aptly allude to, is one where we are told to be perfect (through a never ending, impossible and non-human, ‘LDS to do list’) in order to be worthy of God’s love, forgiveness and salvation.

    The catch of course is, we’re not perfect and can never become such in this life, therefore in this life we are NOT: loved, forgiven or assured salvation.

    I recall hearing Faust and GBH in recent General Conference’s say, paraphrasing “I hope that I make it to the CK”. If THEY don’t know, what freaking hope do WE have of knowing we’re going to make it, that we’re loved, approved, justified, forgiven, and acceptable?!

    It is depressing…giving all of your $, time, talents, life blood to the LDS Church’s God…and never knowing if you’re loved or forgiven or acceptable to that God.

    It is depressing, period.

    To me, this is absolutely why Utah is the most depressed state, because Mormonism is a depressing ‘state’ to be in!

  2. beastie says:

    I also remember feeling stressed and worried about whether or not I’d “make it”, or, IOW, whether or not I was “good enough for God”. I was pushing myself to be the Uber faithful mormon to the max, and yet, of course, I still felt like a failure in some aspects, and since, according to LDS leaders, ALL of these requirements/commandments are SUPER DUPER important to God, I felt I was failing him in a significant way. The one failure that bothered me the most was that I wasn’t enthusiastically engaged in member missionary work. To hear the leaders talk, if you weren’t doing a good job in that, you were a failure. God would be really, really mad at you. For a while I spent a lot of time on genealogy for temple work in the hopes that would “count” and get me off the hook.

    Yet, in retrospect, hardly any of us were engaged in trying to convert others in any way. I mean, really, what we were supposed to do? Accost strangers on the street? No, I know, we were supposed to deliberately cultivate friendships with people with the goal of eventually getting them into the church. But in real life, who does that? I tell you who – people who don’t have real friends.

    That’s just one example of how I stressed out over not being good enough. And then, on top of all that, you feel guilty for feeling depressed in the first place. How ungrateful of you! You had the TRUTH, the ONE TRUE CHURCH, God had chosen YOU to be part of this generation before the Second Coming… and you’re whining, feeling sorry for yourself, depressed!!! Slacker!!!!

    I was seriously depressed on my mission. At one point, I could barely leave our tiny one room apartment without bursting into tears. When I got home, I refused to give a glowing homecoming talk. I talked about struggling with depression, and tried to encourage others to not give up. Of course, what cured that depression was finishing my mission, and such a cure wasn’t an option to people just depressed with mormon life in general. But I will never forget how several people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for openly addressing the “dark secret” so many of them also carried.

  3. karl says:

    Hi runtu: I related so well to your thoughts. Recently I had the word inferior jump into my head. I thought about it. I remember also listening to a tape on a website where Bruce R. was giving a talk and he was saying things such as “we will never, we can never, the only thing we can hope for is – I thought about this and thought that in my home I was always incompetent and at church I was always inferior. I was not a return missionary, then I was a missionary that came home early, then I was an excommunicated member of the church. I look back and say what a burden for a nineteen year old. I disagree with the LDS social servcies guy because you have to experience the passive-aggressiveness of the LDS culture to understand the weight it puts on someones mind. I go to twelve step meetings to deal with my porn addiction and it’s like a new family. I’m not incompetent there and I’m not inferior in anyway. My friend told me I was using porn like alcohol. I think I know why now. I wish you well. come back to MDB soon.

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