Thursday, November 6, 2008

Guest Post: Why ARE Mormons so depressed?

This is the second post on this subject. See the first post (my take) here. Becca is a friend and has a fun family blog where she talks about her kids antics, her passion for homeschooling, and, well, anything else that interests her! Check her out at http://beccajones.blogspot.com/.

I have thought about this for a long time and I've come to some
questions and thoughts (I don't think they're conclusions yet).

1. I haven't read the original study, nor even the link Laura put to
the analysis of it (bad me....), but I have always wondered if UTAH
being the most depressed state can actually be equated with Mormons
being the most depressed people. It seems likely to me that anyone on
the 'outside,' like non-mormons and non-active-mormons are in Uah,
would feel prone to report symptoms of depression and skew the
results.

2. Orson Scott Card once said that Mormons are, by nature, not
followers, but rebels. I heard him say this is a lecture, so I don't
have a source note for you. He explained that Mormons, at least
initially, tended to be the people who were unsettled and willing to
try new things, look at new ideas, and reject the establishment's way
of doing things in search of a higher way. This character trait can
also be expressed in people as 'creativity', which recently was linked
fairly definitively with depression--the same traits that make a
person prone to creativity also make them prone to express depression.
You can read more about this in "Delivered from Distraction," a book
on ADD that has a chapter on the links between creativity, depression,
and ADD and discusses how people with ADD or depression can avoid the
extremes of their illnesses by managing their creativity properly.

Unfortunately, my experience with Mormons is that, although we are
taught explicitly to express our creativity and develop our talents
(see the most recent women's conference for this), we don't allow
ourselves to really make time for this or embrace this because we are
too busy living up to that unrealistic cultural ideal that Laura made
reference to--the perfect woman equals perfect house syndrome. For
creative people, according to Halliwell (the author of 'Delivered,'),
this can lead to increased feelings of depression.

In other words, the genetic predisposition doesn't conflict with the
doctrine, but it can very strongly conflict with the culture, like
Laura said, and the very thing that makes people prone to join the
church also makes their descendants prone to creativity and
depression.

3. I always wonder, when I see ideas like 'most depressed state' or
'autism has higher incidence' reported in studies if the actual issue
is more prevalent, or if the reporting of it and seeking treatment for
it are more prevalent. Are Mormons really the most depressed people,
or, with their understanding that 'Happiness is [our] heritage' (as
Elder Uchtdorf said), they don't identify depression (even in its
anxiety/anger expressions) and seek treatment more often.

Likewise, with our emphasis on women having children and staying home
with them and not abusing them, we may be more in tune with the
symptoms of depression (all of them, even if we don't call them
depression) than women who work full time outside the home, or have no
children by choice. I'm not saying our lifestyle CAUSES depression,
but merely that it makes it more noticeable and imperative that we get
treatment for it.

Many of the non-mormons I know just expect that life is going to be
unhappy, or 'gray-to-black', all the time, or assume that it's normal
for people to feel extreme anxiety or anger. When it gets to be too
much, they self-medicate with alcohol or other soft drugs, or they
(often) have the freedom that mothers of many don't have to exercise
for 2 hours a day, or sink themselves for 24 hours into their art, or
even, often, change their diets significantly. And many many of them,
not knowing any better, figure that's life and just go along.

I have also been told by many people that their LDS parents told them
that getting help for mental illness is a sign of weakness or a lack
of faith. The church has most emphatically tried to squelch this
falsehood, but many many people let all kinds of mental illness
flourish and interfere in their lives because of a lie that trusting
Jesus is enough, and if he doesn't heal you, you don't have enough
faith.

Because of this, I have appreciated Laura's perspective that God made
her with depression for a reason--not that she shouldn't treat it and
seek happiness, but that perhaps she has things to learn that will
make it so that all her faith and reliance on Christ may not relieve
her of her challenges, but that does not mean she has to spend her
whole life suffering with her illness.

Just like faith in Christ does not mean we acknowledge he exists and
then 'do it on my own,' it also doesn't mean we don't act at all and
wait for him to fix everything up the way we demand or expect, or that
it will be a fast and easy ride.

22 comments:

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Nice post, Becca. I like what you have to say about creativity and our predecessors' rebellious streaks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Maryam said...

One thing I have observed...
MOST of my close girlfriends in the church suffer from some sort of depression and take medication. The thing I notice about each of them is that their imbalance isn't really situational or just stress induced. For most of them, it is a chemical thing they were born with. All of these women have parents with chemical imbalances that contributes to their depression. It is super clear that their parents have handed the anxiety/depression down to their children...and I suspect some of my girlfriend's children will have depression.
So I guess my observation is that the depression in my LDS girlfriends usually stems from the way their body functions/the way they were made as opposed to being over stressed ect...
Why do you think that is?

Misty Lynne said...

An interesting study that my husband found recently relates to this. According to the study, the more "active" a Mormon is in Utah, the less likely they are to be depressed. I'll have to have Seth give you the link to the study.

Personally, I think it's a double edge sword. While being more social and focusing outward can help alleviate mild depression, I don't think that it's the only answer to the study's findings. People who are depressed tend to withdraw more, thus they become "less active". Those who aren't depressed are often less stressed and participate more in church functions.

Misty Lynne said...

I think Becca hit on a nerve though. For those of us who have young kids and stay at home, we don't have the time or ability to simply "take time off for ourselves". De-stressers aren't so easy to come by, and stress is ever more present.

Also, don't forget that motherhood is undervalued in our society because "anyone can do it" and there is no dollar sign attached to the title. We lack spare time to preen, unstained clothes to wear, time for body sculpting and so forth, so we rarely see ourselves as beauty queens either. It's also hard to feel successful when your kid is screaming at you because he wanted the red popsicle, not the orange one, and just finished gluing your sofa cushions together.

Utah has the largest percentage of children per capita. I wonder if other demographics that have high rates of children with stay at home moms would have similar levels of depression.

Of course, it could also be a genetic thing. A lot of Mormons (especially those in Utah) come from a relatively small group of pioneers. . .

There are also the expectations that our religion places on us. Though our doctrines are not works based, our culture most definitely seems to be.

Whatever the diagnostic, there's sure to be multiple causes.

Becca said...

Maryam--I have noticed that most of my friends have genetic depression, too. What I was trying to say in the post was that the same genetic structures that made our predecessors creative and rebellious are often expressed in us as depression. It is absolutely a curse and a blessing we inherit.

Also, I really think we shouldn't confuse the incidence of depression with the incidence of being treated for depression. I suspect the Mormons are not more depressed, but more responsible about it, feeling the obligation to spouse and children to 'fix it' rather than 'live with it.'

Becca said...

Misty--
I agree with the research for me. I can't speak for anyone else, but I have found that my own depression is effectively treated by good nutrition and activity. Elder Uchtdorf really defined my 'cure'--creativity and social service.

Fern RL said...

I mostly agree that Utah may not really be the most depressed state just because we use the most anti-depressants.

What results would the survey show if they said "the most depressed state is the one which uses the most alcohol?" My doctor, who is not LDS, says that more non-mormons may use alcohol instead of being treated for depression.

My husband and his family apparently have a genetic tendency toward depression, and it certainly doesn't help that depression seems to follow in a vicious cycle: It causes you to sleep poorly, which causes you to get more depressed, etc. Diet, or dieting may also contribute.

The religious angle makes a difference, too. The way I look at Grace and works, is: Grace is absolutely essential for salvation in all meanings of the word. When it is said "We are saved by Grace alone." I think it can be taken two ways. I take it that there is no other thing but Grace that will save us. It can also be taken that Grace is supposed to be "alone" to save us. But if we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments.

How does that relate to depression? As I see it, every commandment is a blessing from an all-wise and all loving Creator, so every time we "do something right" we receive the blessing of having done that right thing. That makes me happy, even when I don't do all things right, because I see it as an additive effect of goodness and not a negative thing, beating myself up about my imperfections.

Laura said...

You guys are the smartest readers! I really appreciate all the dimensions you are adding to this discussion. There is no one way to explain why people are depressed--it's a mosaic of life experiences and attitudes and genetics. Discussions like this definitely further understanding. Thanks for offering all your thoughts ;)

Sabrina said...

That was all well said! Very interesting to get other angles of the issues. Here's my .02 for what it's worth: I find that for myself at least, I get really down on myself for not living up to my expectations, either self imposed or culturally imposed or gospel imposed. I don't know if that makes any sense. But I really struggle with that day-to-day, trying to live up to my model of a "perfect mom" and "perfect wife" and "perfect visiting teacher" etc. And when I don't live up to it every day, I get really down on myself. I don't think I am alone with this problem, since at every General Conference Women's Session, it seems like that subject is addressed one way or another. I think we set such high standards for ourselves that are almost impossible to achieve, and then we get depressed when we can't reach it. It can be really hard to overcome.

Fern RL said...

Sabrina, your comment seems totally true: You're not alone in the thought of trying to be the "perfect mom" etc.

Personally, I'm weird. I told my husband when I married him 26 years ago that I'm not a "real girl". Now, my youngest daughter is married and is reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and seeing how true it is for them as a couple, yet sometimes I identify more with the male position. But depression is usually more a female than a male thing, too, I think.

I am really lax on the housework thing, even though I am a stay-at-home wife/mother of adult children. And my husband works circles around me when we are both home together. That embarrasses me a little, but doesn't really depress me.

It would be nice if someone could just say: "Be like this to overcome depression" and have it happen, but I don't think it is really so. So I don't know if my perspective really helps, either. Just know that I would like to help if I could.

Fern RL said...

Sabrina, your comment seems totally true: You're not alone in the thought of trying to be the "perfect mom" etc.

Personally, I'm weird. I told my husband when I married him 26 years ago that I'm not a "real girl". Now, my youngest daughter is married and is reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and seeing how true it is for them as a couple, yet sometimes I identify more with the male position. But depression is usually more a female than a male thing, too, I think.

I am really lax on the housework thing, even though I am a stay-at-home wife/mother of adult children. And my husband works circles around me when we are both home together. That embarrasses me a little, but doesn't really depress me.

It would be nice if someone could just say: "Be like this to overcome depression" and have it happen, but I don't think it is really so. So I don't know if my perspective really helps, either. Just know that I would like to help if I could.

Fern RL said...

Sabrina, your comment seems totally true: You're not alone in the thought of trying to be the "perfect mom" etc.

Personally, I'm weird. I told my husband when I married him 26 years ago that I'm not a "real girl". Now, my youngest daughter is married and is reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and seeing how true it is for them as a couple, yet sometimes I identify more with the male position. But depression is usually more a female than a male thing, too, I think.

I am really lax on the housework thing, even though I am a stay-at-home wife/mother of adult children. And my husband works circles around me when we are both home together. That embarrasses me a little, but doesn't really depress me.

It would be nice if someone could just say: "Be like this to overcome depression" and have it happen, but I don't think it is really so. So I don't know if my perspective really helps, either. Just know that I would like to help if I could.

Fern RL said...

oops, sorry for the multiple comments. I thought it wasn't working, for some reason

Laura said...

Fern RL-- no worries. It happens to all of us!

This discussion is really interesting to me. I am always surprised by how many, many LDS people have been through periods of depression. And while there IS a difference between the temporary, emotional state and the chronic illness, it does always take some of everything for people to deal with depression. Pretty much everybody can use more faith (not that it will heal them, per se, but it will strengthen them), a better understanding of the doctrine, more service, more time to pursue talents, etc--and for those of us with the illness it sometimes take a little more help (like therapy and medication). It's hard not to confuse the different types of depression.

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Sabrina,

Boy, I relate to you there. I actually consider myself a "recovering perfectionist" because I have to constantly remind it's okay to mess up. ;)

One of the things I have found useful is a more complete understanding of the doctrine of the Fall. (Please don't misunderstand me: I don't think the "solution" to depression or anxiety is "understanding doctrine correctly." I'm just saying these insights have helped me frame my experiences so I can act rationally despite emotional knee-jerk reactions. Hope that makes sense.)

Anyway, as Mormons, I think much of what we know about the Fall is that we don't believe in "Original Sin." And while it's true that we don't believe *we* will be punished for *Adam's* "transgression," the scriptures are VERY clear that one of the effects of the Fall is that we are born into a mortal state, which means we are hopelessly lost, fallen, corrupt, and broken--by nature.

Once it really sunk in that nothing I do *by myself* will amount to a hill of beans in the eternal difference, no matter how hard I try, it really lifted a load off my shoulders. I realized, first of all, that I don't *have* to be "perfect"--because God doesn't expect that of me. And secondly, that I really, truly do have to rely on the Savior, because without Him there is no hope for me--but WITH Him, I'm okay!

Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with perfectionism. But when I get crazed, I try to remind myself, "Hey--this mistake or imperfection is just a side-effect of the Fall. It's all part of the plan. Thank goodness I have Jesus!"

I'm not sure if that will be as useful to anyone else as it was to me--or if I even expressed the ideas at all adequately--but I thought I'd throw it out there. :)

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Ooops. Once it really sunk in that nothing I do *by myself* will amount to a hill of beans in the eternal difference,

That should be "eternal perspective."

Katie Ackerman Langston said...

Sorry for all the comments. But I'm laughing out loud right now because I realized I'm still enough of a perfectionist to go back and correct a typo. :) *lol*

Old habits die hard.

Becca said...

from FAIR:

http://en.fairmormon.org/LDS_use_of_antidepressants

" Are Mormons more depressed than non-Mormons?

Shortly after Mr. Ponder released his paper, Brigham Young University sociologist Sherrie Mills Johnson used data from national surveys to show that Mormon women are less likely to be depressed than American women in general. Johnson's conclusions upheld findings of some earlier studies that Mormons have no more depression than the nation's population as a whole.[5]
Conclusion

While Utah does have the highest rate of antidepressant use in the United States, there is no evidence that this is because of stress from the LDS lifestyle and culture. Credible research has shown that LDS women are actually more likely to identify themselves as "happy" than non-Mormon women.

Until further research is done, critics of the Church have no evidence that higher anti-depressant use in Utah is due to their claim of an increase in difficulty of the LDS lifestyle. "

Elizabeth-W said...

I think most people who drink alcohol do it, [even if it's only one responsible (possibly heart-healthy) glass of wine], using that chemical to put a little buffer on their brain to cope with life's stressors.
If we don't use that substance to calm down, do we use SSRI/SNRIs instead? Or Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia (my personal fave)?
I totally believe if the researchers somehow factored into the study we do not drink/use drugs, I bet the percentages would be radically different.
I think about the early pioneers. How many of those women who were stay-at-home mothers were depressed? I think they must think we're total pansies. Or maybe they get it. They didn't have to decide whether or not they should work outside the home, whether or not it's okay to get a boob lift, whether or not they should get a new car first or a years' supply. They were happy they weren't dead after the long, cold winter.

Nurse Heidi said...

My dear doctor, who is LDS and by virtue of practicing in Utah County has a high percentage of LDS patients in his practice, has many times asserted his belief that we're not any more depressed than the rest of the world, just that we don't have alcohol to self medicate with like everyone else does. I tend to agree with him.

Connie said...

Hi! Interesting reading. I am from a family of depressions, both my parents, both of my brothers. My oldest brother went so far as to have a nervous breakdown. I had a couple round in high school with anxiety, and a couple round of depression, but not at the same time. I was a bad PMSer also, which led to a very rocky Menopause, which led me to go onto Zoloft. Was on it for about 4-5 years. I am 63 now, been off Zoloft for 18 months. (see, there is hope!) I am LDS in case you are wondering, since 1963. I have had 6 children. All of them are on or have taken anti-depressants
except one, and she should be, but because she is very creative with photography, I think it keeps her from falling over the edge.
I wanted to share also that what has helped me the most to get off and stay off (since I had tried it three times before) was to take magnesium citrate, 800 mg., calcium citrate, 1000 mg. flaxseed oil, 2000-4000 mgs. and B-complex of at least 25-50 mgs, and Vit C, 1000 mg. every day. The fun part of all of this was to find that it also brought down my blood sugar numbers as I am type II diabetic. Works like a charm! I have been able to not take meds for diabetes and A1c's have been below 6.5 every time for three years now. So, maybe that will help some out there. Stop beating yourself up over this stuff, do what it takes to get yourself to feel "normal" again, and GET BACK TO LIFE!!
Connie

IRAQ said...

Hi,

It is slow at work tonight so I am surfing cool blogs out there and came across this one.

My wife and I just came through an extremely difficult post-partum bout with our 5th child which ended up with a bi-polar diagnosis (mostly depression) with anxiety and paranoia and a whole host of other symptoms. Our marriage was close to an implosion from all of the stress and complications.

My wife then got on some good psychotropic meds to get the brain chemistry more or less balanced out where she could reason adequately and then went to see her doc to see what her blood work looked like. She was extremely B12 deficient to the point that just taking some B vitamin supplements was not enough and has taken weekly injections for the last several months.

Right now she is 95% the person that I remember I married. Where she was sleeping half the day and overwhelmed just putting a simple dinner together (and I seriously used to worry each day whether there would be some sort of crime scene when I got home…) she is now cranking out Christmas cookies, letters and all that stuff we used to do each Christmas before the last child was born and this all started.

Please have your thyroid and B12 levels checked - and take the more drastic measure and cost of injections to get the levels back to normal. Where I expected to just have to endure for the next 40 years of marriage to my sweetheart, I am looking forward to fulfilling years in the future.

I just want to help others find what saved my marriage and wife from this devastating illness.

May God Bless in Your Healing Process,

ERIC WOOD