Mormons and Depression / Mental Illness / Anti-depressant Use

Jan 8, 2012 by

~by Michelle

After gathering many responses to the recent question from one of our readers, I thought it would be useful to address one of the topics that came up in some of the comments: depression (and/or the use of anti-depressants by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

It”s not an uncommon topic to be brought up — why, if Mormonism claims to have a “plan of happiness” are some Mormons taking anti-depressants?

While I understand the knee-jerk response to some studies that show that Utah has a high rate of anti-depressant use, to use such data to conclude that Mormonism is harmful seems to miss several relevant points.

1. Many people who live in Utah are not Mormon; thus statistics coming from Utah should not automatically be assumed to be statistics about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In reality, most Mormons live outside of Utah. And there are other states that have a higher-than-average percentage of LDS people in their populations (states in which anti-depressant use is not, relatively, as high).

2. Part of the way active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints live includes not partaking of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco — substances that are often used by people to deal with stress, pain, struggle.

3. Mental illness is something recognized as just that — an illness. Often there isn’t an external cause. Some people are predisposed to depression. That’s not to say that external events or triggers can’t make things worse, but there are simply too many factors that come into play with mental illness to make declarative statements about Mormonism from one set of data.

4. On that note, one researcher* [Daniel K Judd] who has studied the topic of mental health extensively has discussed how prescription use in general (much for well recognized health issues such as diabetes or heart problems) is higher in Utah, which could correlate to perhaps more medical coverage, more education about health issues, or any number of other things…the point, again, being that there are other factors and data to consider before making any conclusions. (Interestingly, this researcher has data that would indicate that religious people may have better mental health than their non-religious counterparts.)

5. As to what it means to be Mormon and be dealing with depression or other mental illness: Faith is not something that automatically removes the trials of life. We don’t claim as Mormons to not have trials. In fact, once you get to know any Mormon well, you will surely find that he or she has plenty of problems. And our problems are really no different from anyone else’s. We have health issues, physical and mental. We have family struggles. We have job and financial stresses. We have hard things happen. People sometimes have hard things happen as members of the Church (someone is unkind or does something wrong…like recent news stories about people who were defrauded by fellow Church members). Again, we don’t claim to live pain-free lives, and we definitely don’t claim to be perfect, or that Church members don’t sometimes make bad choices.

But we do claim to have beliefs that, when understood and lived, can help us face trials in life, and give peace and perspective in the midst of adversity.

I liked this quote from Alexander B. Morrison, who is a former member of what is called the Quorum of the Seventy (a leadership group in the Church). His daughter has struggled with depression, and he’s even written a book on the topic of mental health in the context of faith.

In the Book of Mormon we read that the Nephites, who had been obedient to God’s laws, “lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Ne. 5:27). What a wonderful and insightful thought: if we are obedient and follow God’s commandments, we will be happy.

It is important to understand, however, that happiness does not imply the absence of adversity. Every individual experiences temptation, opposition, and trials that test faith and endurance: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). (From the article Myths about Mental Illness – a recommended read)

I think it’s important to acknowledge that not all Mormons are happy all the time, and some struggle a lot. Some of this includes struggles with mental health. But that doesn’t take away from the reality that for many (if not most) Mormons, our faith can help us find the strength and courage and hope to keep on keeping on through the hard times…and to even try to learn from them.

We believe we are here in this life to be tested, that the struggles in life have a purpose, and that this life is not all there is. As we look to Christ and lean on God in hope, we seek to come to know ourselves and God better through our trials, and trust that God will help us through them. We also believe that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, God can change us, little by little, and help us so that we can better face difficulties with courage and patience.

Happiness does not depend on what happens outside of you but on what happens inside of you; it is measured by the spirit with which you meet the problems of life. -Harold B. Lee

This is a process, to be sure, and it can be extremely difficult, and that happiness is not necessarily something we feel constantly. But it is something that is real, even for many of us who deal personally with the reality of mental illness.

———-

*Daniel K Judd, “Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter-day Saints (see also this article: Why High Anti-depressant use in Utah)

For more information and thoughts on this topic see the following:

Personal story about facing clinical depression: Battling Clinical Depression, “Finding the Light from Within”

More information, research, and responses about the topic of Mormons and anti-depressant use, see this article and this Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on mental illness. For one study that showed that LDS women are actually less depressed than non-LDS women, see this USA Today article. (Note that the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article states that Mormon women run about average with the population at large, and Mormon men suffer with less depression than the average.) 

For more information on LDS views about mental illness, see here.

For LDS resources in dealing with different types of mental/emotional struggles see here or here. For an indexed list of articles on the topics related to mental and emotional illness (and other topics as well), see this resource list.

This post was edited from the original.

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6 Comments

  1. I just read many of the comments from the previous posts that asked the question: Why are Mormons so happy? What a lovely observation from someone who is not a member of the LDS faith.

    Thank you for addressing the issue of depression in Mormon women that came up. You make some very important points about depression within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the whole. Utah is not the Church, nor could it possibly represent it on a global scale.

    I believe the happiness that is often observed by those outside of the Mormons faith is something that members may not recognize in themselves– as they are comfortable with this state of being.

    A perspective that gives LDS members an understanding of this life gives us the ability to walk through life with confidence that all things will work together for our good — come what may.

    Even depression.

  2. Ariane

    Wonderful post, and very insightful! Thank you so much!

  3. Marci

    Ok. I am a Mormon woman. But I must say, I do not think that this article brings up even one valid argument against the ultra high rates of anti-depressants used by our women AND girls. For the main argument to be that “not everyone in Utah is Mormon,” I cringed. Sure, 100% of the population is not LDS. However, with So many of our cities in Utah exceeding 90% Mormon population, it would certainly be fair for someone to use Utah as a representative sample of the Mormon population (at LEAST in America).

    Another favorite – “Mormons don’t use drugs. That’s why we are depressed.” Really? Really?! If the rest of the world is happy because they use substances that we aren’t “allowed to have” while we pop addicting psychotropics and benzodiazepines, I’d most definitely say that the joke is on us!

    If we take a step back and look at our LDS friends and family members, can we honestly say we don’t see a higher presence of depression than in our non-member friends?

    …me neither. :(

  4. Marci

    Why does my comment have to wait for moderation? That is strange that you filter these comments to only things that support what you say… It is wrong.

  5. Marci,

    Comments often wait in moderation because I don’t monitor this site all day. I check it once or twice a day.

    And yes, we do monitor for content. We have comment policies and that is well within the realm of normal for blogs and online media.

    One of the things we monitor for is posting multiple comments from the same IP address under different ‘names.’ I’m posting your comments anyway, but please respect this space. It’s ok to share your experience and perspective, and then we get to decide what to do about sharing it. There are plenty of other spaces where you can share your voice.

  6. Now to your points.

    First of all, it sounds like you are not happy yourself with Mormonism at some level. I’m sorry about that. The other comment from “John” about not agreeing with Mormons being happy also suggests to me that you are not happy or have had negative experiences within the Church. I hope you are able to find some peace for yourself, whatever that may look like.

    I’ll address something mentioned in the other comment on the post about Mormons being happy here as well. I do sometimes see people hiding emotions in our midst, but I also think this is often a human condition. If you have ever read materials from Brené Brown, for example, you would see that a lack of vulnerability is most certainly not a Mormon problem. It’s a human problem.

    To your comment above:
    Of course there are high-LDS populations in Utah. But stats are stats and if people want to study the LDS population, they can’t generalize Utah-centric data as being reflective of Mormons in general. It’s just not good stats practice.

    ““Mormons don’t use drugs. That’s why we are depressed.” Really? Really?! ”

    That isn’t what I said, but I see that I probably could have explained what I meant more clearly. Depression is a mental illness and people the world over struggle with it. Sometimes people deal with mental illness by self-medicating through unhealthy substances or behaviors. Sometimes people use medication (and the researcher mentioned above noted that that approach may be used by a population with higher levels of education or income). The point relates to point #4 which is that correlation (antidepressant use in Utah) is not causation (Mormonism “causes depression” and is to be “blamed” for high antidepressant use).

    Also, using antidepressant use as a negative measure could be measuring exactly the wrong things when it comes to reducing the stigma around mental illness.

    And yes, sometimes people overuse antidepressants or can get addicted to those. But once again, that doesn’t mean that the LDS faith *causes* such addictions or depression. Again, statistics would require that you back up your claims with data.

    So this claim –”If we take a step back and look at our LDS friends and family members, can we honestly say we don’t see a higher presence of depression than in our non-member friends?” cannot be made subjectively. It would require a randomized, large-enough sample to determine whether this could be backed up by data.

    That is not to say that subjective experience isn’t valid. Again, I’m sorry that your experiences seem to fall more into the negative category.

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