Suicide and Depression in Utah
This article details a growing problem in Utah: teen suicide. Utah's suicide rate is substantially above the national average. I think there are some unique factors that exist in Utah culture that could potentially contribute to suicidal tendencies and the depression that usually causes them.
Studies show that 90% of young people who commit suicide suffer from mental illness.
According to the Utah Youth Suicide Study, only 3% of Utah suicide victims were using psychotropic medications when they died, and only 2% were active in public mental health treatment.
The fact that LDS people get depressed, just like those from every other walk of life, is not new or groundbreaking. But how we perceive and deal with depression is definitely worth discussing.
As the article says, “Utahn's in general remain squeamish about openly discussing the problem [suicide and depression] and its complex psychological causes. I don't believe that Utahn's are the only people who have difficulty discussing depression, but what are the specific reasons that pertain to our culture?
There are probably several. I think one is the belief that, since “wickedness never was happiness, righteousness never was sadness. Most are reasonable enough to admit that it's impossible to be happy all the time, but the number of people who will admit the possibility that a righteous person can be in perpetual despair (which is frequently accompanied by perpetual guilt) is probably substantially fewer. It's much more natural for Mormons to attribute depression to personal unworthiness.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff mentions another barrier that prevents those suffering from getting appropriate help: “We have this All is well in Zion kind of thing going on here, he says. “We'd rather not talk about it at all or maybe go talk to the bishop about it. If there really is a mental health issue you need help. It doesn't work to talk to the youth leaders or ecclesiastic leaders.
This reflects a common Mormon perception: that your bishop is your all-purpose counselor and therapist. No matter what your problem, concern, or challenge may be, this five-word response is sometimes the most advice you can hope for: “go talk to the bishop. While he may be able to put members with mental or emotional health problems in contact with appropriate professionals, I think it's important to keep in mind that most bishops are not formally trained in psychology, so they may or may not possess skills in identifying potential health concerns. In fact, in worse-case scenarios, the bishop may mistake the sufferer's severe depression and low self-esteem as evidence of some serious, undisclosed sin. The unjustified attribution of these feelings to personal sin is likely to make the problem much worse.
So, what's the deal with Utahn's and depression? Why are more kids killing themselves here than in many other states? How should this problem be dealt with?