Are Mormons Unhappy?

mormon family of four on floor

A personal answer from Gale.

Some people have the impression that Mormons, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are unhappy.  There are two main reasons for this misperception:

  1. Mormons don’t drink, smoke, or engage in sexual activity outside traditional marriage, and therefore they couldn’t possibly be having any fun.
  2. Anti-depressant use seems to be common in Utah, which is mostly Mormon.

Let’s address #1 first.  Mormons who are committed to their faith keep the commandments regarding health, called the Word of Wisdom.  Refraining from drinking alcohol actually enhances one’s ability to enjoy oneself, rather than decreasing it.  Avoiding alcohol decreases the risk of embarrassing or destructive behavior, drunk driving, and accidental sexual encounters.  Because Mormons participate in every level of running the Church, they have experience in interpersonal communication on every level.  Therefore, most are not in need of using alcohol to put them at ease in public.  There’s nothing wrong with “good, clean fun,” and Mormons are masters at it, participating enthusiastically in sports, dance, singing, stagecraft, social events, outdoors activities, etc.  The restrictions on Mormon behavior are liberating, rather than constraining.  Mormons are happy, approachable people.

As for anti-depressant use in Utah…  The press jumped on a report released by a large mail-order pharmaceutical provider that Utah placed the most orders for anti-depressants.  Mormons comprise 58% of the state’s citizens.  A Los Angeles Times article claimed the following:

This problem is clearly, closely and definitely linked to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Approximately 70% of Utahans are Mormons. Jim Jorgenson, director of pharmacy services for the University of Utah, confirmed that Utah has the highest percentage of anti-depressant use, hypothesizing that large families, larger in Utah than in other states, produce greater stress. (Large Utah families are primarily Mormon families).

The same LDS Church that works so well for many works very badly for many others, who become chronically depressed, especially women (Ponder, “Mormon Women, Prozac® and Therapy,”).

“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” (“Expert: Mormon women less depressed,” USA Today, 2 April 2004 (Associated Press article). [1]

“Analysis of the data indicates that Latter-day Saints who live their lives consistent with their religious beliefs experience greater general well-being and marital and family stability, and less delinquency, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than those who do not. This review of research also concludes that there is very little support for the assertion made by some that religious belief, practice, or affiliation is antithetical to mental health.” [2]

For studies that specifically looked at LDS women:

  • 70% were positive; 24% had neutral effects on mental health (thus, only 6% showed a negative effect);
  • LDS women were less depressed than other women; LDS men were no different from non-LDS men.

mormon“Thus, the available research does not support the contention that religious people have more mental health problems than non-religious people, or that being a Latter-day Saint religious person is mentally unhealthy. If anything, being LDS is protective against mental health difficulties, which is in keeping with the general consensus that religion is psychologically beneficial.  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. Religion generally (and the LDS religion specifically) has been repeatedly shown to be either beneficial or neutral for mental health and well-being.” [3]

It’s important to consider, also, some factors that might influence the number of orders for anti-depressants.  1. Mormons don’t drink alcohol, so they cannot use it when they are depressed.  2. Utahns might be non-judgmental enough to accept the reality of depression and quick to seek medical help.  3. Health care benefits provided by employers might be good in Utah, enabling those who need it to get help.  4. The study did not include anyone who is uninsured by an employer, or who is on Medicare, skewing the results. 5. The Mormon population in Utah is lower than people assume.  6. Symptoms of depression are also symptoms of other conditions, especially hormone imbalances, which might be common in Utah for environmental or other reasons.

A recent MSNBC report named Utah the happiest state in America.  The study was conducted by Jason Rentfrow of the University of Cambridge in England.  Rentfrow and his colleagues came to their conclusions by analyzing data collected from more than 350,000 individuals who were interviewed between Jan. 2 and Dec. 30, 2008 as part of the Gallup Organization’s Well-Being Index. The index includes six types of well-being: overall evaluation of their lives, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors (such as whether a person smokes or exercises), and job satisfaction.

Here are the top 10 states and their average well-being scores (out of a possible 100 points):

  • Utah: 69.2
  • Hawaii: 68.2
  • Wyoming: 68
  • Colorado: 67.3
  • Minnesota: 67.3
  • Maryland: 67.1
  • Washington: 67.1
  • Massachusetts: 67
  • California: 67
  • Arizona: 66.8

The researchers looked at the relationship between happiness levels and other variables, including economic indicators, education levels, personality factors and levels of inclusiveness.  Areas where people are wealthier and better educated tend to score higher on the well-being index.  However, the top three states, Utah, Hawaii and Wyoming are outliers, as they aren’t considered the wealthiest of the pack.  “The happier states also tended to have a greater proportion of residents with advanced educations whose jobs were considered ‘super-creative,’ such as architecture, engineering, computer and math occupations, library positions, arts and design work, as well as entertainment, sports and media occupations.”

Utah had a significantly lower level of neuroticism than other states.  Neuroses make people unhappy.  Utah is conservative, and the research shows that conservatives are slightly happier than those with a more liberal bent.  Utah also has strong families and social relationships.

The results are being detailed in the December issue of the Journal of Research in Personality.

Spiritual Insights

Citing studies only gives you part of the picture.  Mormons suffer from trials and adversity, just as all people do.  But the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost — a unique gift that comes with being baptized with God’s true authority helps Mormons find happiness in spite of them.  Support of family, prayer, and an eternal perspective that comes with the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation also help.  The following video shows an example.

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