I really should start this off by making it very clear that depression is serious business. Depression should not be ignored nor should the one that suffers from it have to do so alone. There is a clear divide between the treatments for physiological depression and the depression that is influenced by social/belief factors in the mormon church. What I want to address here are the ways that cultural factors (which are fostered by some of its doctrine) nurture depression in large pockets of the church.
I was reading this article and several others that support and refute possible rationale for the extremely high antidepressant use in Utah, the mormon capital. As I’ve read, I find it interesting when you see the varying stances that a person takes will have a strong alignment with their original bias. I only find it frustrating when an apologist masquerading as a professional or scientist tries to lend weight to their subjective opinions by presenting them as a legitimate interpretation to the data of a study.
The study referenced in the article produced data that showed that anti-depressant use was much higher in Utah than in other states. The data was then subjected to interpretation by Daniel K. Judd, a purported, reliable authority with a PhD in psych and a professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
“With few exceptions, Latter-day Saints who live their lives consistent with the teachings of the (church) experience greater well-being, increased marital and family stability, less delinquency, less depression, less anxiety, less suicide and less substance abuse than those who do not”
…”Perhaps one of the reasons the residents of Utah lead the nation in the use of antidepressants is that since they are generally more educated and aware of the symptoms and treatments of depression, they are more likely than the residents of other states to seek medical treatment.”
None of these have any basis in the data of the study. They are the interpretation through the lens of bias in an attempt to obviously defend the Mormon = happiness myths.
“With few exceptions…” What data produced that interpretation?
“Latter-day Saints who live their lives consistent with the teachings of the (church)…” means absolutely nothing since once a person is sad, depressed, struggling, or feeling like an outsider to church culture, they are immediately seen as one suffering from the consequences of sin, laziness, lack of valiance, etc. because, in the church vernacular, happiness equals living by the teachings of the
cult church and vise versa.
I don’t need a biased interpreter. The best information I have to go on is my own experience… as admittedly biased as you may assume it to be. The survey/study and its interpretation are influenced heavily by vectors in mormon culture. In my experience, mormon culture can be expressed through three classes or groups of people that make up 99% (slight exaggeration) of every ward or stake of the church:
- Group 1 (or Team Leadership) – The relatively small group that moves largely in and about itself. They hold most of the influential positions in a ward/stake and spend most of their lives hopping around the same types of positions. They are usually under the impression that they shoulder the lion’s share of the work and feel like they are the best qualified to make decisions because the mask they wear is one of success in the home, in their profession, and public speaking (articulating). They have memorized the temple endowment ceremony and feel really good about themselves for that and the handful of other things in the key-chain of pet topics they can expound on. They are generally adored by the one or two popular cliques that sit on the top layer of group 2. If you were conducting a survey of church membership on “how happy are you?”, these would be the only respondents and would respond precisely how the church leadership would expect them to. This group is completely blind to the existence of these socio-groups. They rarely, if ever, have shed a tear publicly. They are never late because nothing was happening before they got there. They love mormon culture because their personalities respond well to checking off tasks on a list.
- Group 2. If you gave them that name, they would be unable to come up with a new one because coasting is the name of the game. This is the group that does just enough to get by. They crave leadership positions, but are largely inert unless they have a couple Group 1 people in supporting roles and a good circle of their usual friends. They have read the first few verses of several chapters of scripture. They crack a lesson manual, church magazine, book, etc. only when tasked suddenly with teaching a class or speaking in a meeting. Since the advent of the internet, their expository consists largely of plagiarizing stories, anecdotes, and lesson plans posted by other members online. Facebook and Twitter is a haven for them as it provides a venue for trying to appear like Group 1 when they tweet and post about how amazing and uplifting General Conference talks were that day. They avoid being depressed (about how inadequate they feel in comparison to Group 1) by dressing themselves in the appearance of such while avoiding as much effort as possible. These are perfectly willing to visit the home of their other friends in Group 2, but generally avoid visiting their one Group 3 person on their assigned list. This group is heavily invested in appearing to be happy because they fully subscribe to the myth that sadness and depression are an outward sign of sin and doubt. When filling out the survey, this group is the most likely to lie, for appearances sake only, without a moment of regret. When bearing testimony, these are the ones who unconsciously shed tears because it is an important component of adding emphasis and gravitas to the words. In classrooms or small meetings, these people love the sound of their own voice – especially if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand or is a completely unsubstantiated, but spiritual, anecdote. If running late, they will spend the majority of the travel time coming up with a really good excuse.
- Group 3 is totally unaware they are in a group. They only know that they are not in “the group” because they perceive that Groups 1 and 2 are one and the same. They study doctrine possibly even more than either of the other groups as they believe, un-hypocritically enough, that if they just mastered the scriptures, prayed daily, and served others that God would make up the difference and they would achieve the perfection they think everyone else is so close to through the amazing atonement. They are never without a keen awareness of their complete unworthiness before Jesus and God and they see their cycle of minor (and, for some, major) sins and transgressions as the result of the failing of their own faith. These usually avoid bearing testimony mainly from a fear of public speaking and because their tears are a sincere exposure of the grief of inadequacy. They rarely “visit or home teach” other members – not because they don’t want to, but rather they lack the courage to call other members who wouldn’t give them the time of day otherwise. Their inability to train their children to sound and behave like “everyone else’s” children and their frequent tardiness to meetings is a source of deep embarrassment. Group 1 is occasionally frustrated at the downward force that these exert on the ‘success potential’ of the ward or stake. Group 2 tends to spend little time acknowledging them because their friends in their own group are much more interesting (and they click “like” on their posts). This is the group most prone to depression – a state fostered by both nature and nurture. If presented with a “happiness” survey, they will answer in line with Group 1, but will spend the next several months aching for the hypocrisy of the lie.
There is a small pocket of the left over 1% that doesn’t fit into any one stereotypical group. They are anomalous to mormon “culture” probably because they tend to be insulated from group-think. They are generally not stressed about anything having to do with church and get by well enough with letting the ebb and flow of the 3 groups move around them.
I have possibly spent time in all of these groups at one time or another. I have witnessed the church raise the hopes of the masses only to burden those most susceptible with guilt, loneliness, and a yoke of tasks that go so far beyond the necessary mandate of a benevolent doctrine. I have served in enough callings myself to have a wide variety of perspectives.
I ache for those to whom I have been personal witness to their slog in a task-oriented religion that drove them to lose faith in themselves and spiral down into depression. I’ve seen many hopeful converts lose their fire as they struggle to mesh adequately into the culture. I’ve seen several try medication and I’ve seen how those in Group 1 and 2, lacking any training or semblance of piety, look down their noses at the meandering, spiritual squaller of Group 3. I lost a dear friend several years ago to depression who tried for as long as possible to put on the appearances as best as possible – til hope gave out. I am so sorry to anyone that I would have been able to help or point in the right direction had I but known and understood as I do now, but to whom I was little help.
So, I, the expert only on what I know for myself, believe there is a very good reason why Utah leads the nation in anti-depressants. However, I’m just another biased opinion in the mix and what I say doesn’t ratify or destroy the veracity of any religion. What a religion does itself all on its own – now that does have the power to destroy.
I wrote what I am about to copy here not to make fun of the situation. Rather, I wanted to tell the truth in turning a mormon hymn on its ear to expose this issue for what it is.
Slightly silly, unconvincing original **here**.
~~~~~ #227 – There is Sunshine in My Soul Today ~~~~~
There is sunshine in my soul today
And Prozac and Pristiq.
They help me cope with all my guilt
And the ways that I’m “unique”.
So my Paxil and my blessed Zoloft
Send depression running out the door.
Til my Docs find out I’m stringing them along
There’ll be Serzone in my soul!
We are always running late to church
And my kids act out in class.
I am awkward and I have fake friends
I never Visit-Teach!
But some Wellbutrin and some Zyprexa
With Symbalta and Abilify
Help to keep me on that cheerful path
And help us believe the lies.
I would love to be so perfect too
Like my leaders wish I’d try.
I’m the one they vent about at home
Feeding gossip for their wives!
And so, Oleptro mixed with some Effexor
Keep us all from cracking under stress
Of these complicated works that earn our way
To eternal happiness.
Thank you for stopping by. Remember, kindness is a virtue only when you are actually being kind.