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.