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Perfection Causing Depression?March 28th, 2008

According to recent studies Utahns quest for perfection and material satisfaction could be direclty corolated with our being the most depressed state in the nation.
Utah has fewer children diagnosed with ADHD, and more parents diagnosed with depression than anywhere else.

Utahns are nearly twice as depressed as the national average. This is according to a recent studies conducted by Mental Health America. This is indeed surprising, considering how much natural beauty Utah offers as well as the health of our economy.

In the spirit of asking questions the main-stream local media won't touch, in a new series, Utah Stories makes an attempt to answer why. What are the environmental factors that are causing Utah citizens to be depressed?

Without conducting official studies, it's easy to formulate some hypothesis. Utahns are very driven, which has made many Utahns very wealthy. The hard working nature of the Utah population is also reflected in our consistently outstanding diversified economy. Utahns are strong in the entrepreneurial spirit. Personally, I don't know many people who aren't working at least one side-business attempting to make it big. As one drives South-bound into Provo, happy valley is chalk full of pyramid marketing companies. Xango, Wielders, Tahitian Noni, NuSkin. Chances are if you live in Utah you have a friend or two who has "their own health business" and are tapping the wellspring of youth, while getting rich at the same time. If I only had a nickel for every friend of mine who has dished out money on a pyramid scheme, then felt ripped off, I could start my own pyramid scheme for recovering pyramid tumblers.

The point is: Utahns want to succeed in perfection. Natural human limitations, however, always cause this drive for perfection to end up in disappointment. Part of being L.D.S is to be Christ-like. While the L.D.S Church doesn't have an official stance on monetary success, leaders like Stephen Covey preach success and leadership, like others preach the Gospel. But is there a possible negative side-effect with this strong inherent desire to succeed and lead? Only few succeed and lead, the rest follow or get out of the way; then possibly suffer the shame of the crappy car or the small house, with only small relief from Paxil.

But this car and house would still be the marvel of most of the developed world. Most Europeans don't own a car. Most Europeans live in a home that is 900 square feet, the average American home is 1700 square feet. Paradoxically, Europeans are happier than we are.

Is our drive to succeed, to be perfect, to live by the dominant L.D.S Church doctrines causing those who fail to feel inadequate, and more prone to mental illness and depression?

Studies have found that the level of depression in a society is indeed related to how high people set their expectations. Danes, for example, are some of the happiest people in the world, According to reports the only unique factor of the Danes is that they are not ambitious. In fact they have low expectations, which naturally helps them feel better about themselves if they aren't at the top of the heap. According to the B.B.C story:

Denmark is very consumer-oriented and very family-oriented. People are sure to leave work at 4.30pm. They work their eight hours and go home. Pressure to work overtime doesn't exist.
-BBC Wolrd Report

Family Oriented? Sounds like Utahns. So why are they so happy and we aren't? Denmark, is by definition a socialist country; they pay 50% of their incomes to taxes. Socialism always has the effect of leveling the playing field. However, Americans and especially Utahns could never be satisfied with the mediocrity of Socialist values, or not working overtime. Overtime and hard work are in our Pioneer DNA.

Medicating to Succeed, Not A New Idea

Mormon Pioneer
Mormon Pioneer: How did they ever manage to work so hard? The answer might surprise you.

Pioneers once in Salt Lake City learned that a native plant known as "Mormon Tea", also known as ephedrine, could boost their endurance and help them to work longer hours plowing fields or cutting granite (for the Temples). Pioneers have always been of hearty stock, pushing to achieve the promises of the new Zion in the land of Deseret. But the notion of building a new Zion are rarely mentioned anymore. Families work more for themselves then they once did for their ward house. Mormons have assimilated into American society.

The suburbs demonstrate that people, not just in Utah but all across the United States, show their prosperity in the homes they live in and the cars they drive. The McMansion trend has finally curtailed somewhat by the mortgage crisis. But the monstrosities that people think they are impressing everyone with, demonstrate how blown out of proportion some take the notion that square footage = happiness or more material goods = more happiness.

Mcmansion Monstrosity

There is more evidence however, that demonstrates the exact opposite to be true. Lan Nguyen Chaplin (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Deborah Roedder John (University of Minnesota) demonstrate a causal relationship between materialism and happiness (or low self-esteem). -- Low self esteem causes increased materialism and raising self esteem decreases materialism.

Therefore, if parents teach their children that material things produce happiness, the end result can produce both unhappier parents and children.

In our next segment we interview Dr. Lili Wagner. Dr. Wagner is a clinical psychologist, who has agreed to speak to us about the The myth of chemical imbalance theory of depression. How this myth is perpetuated by pharmacutical companies and the media. click here to read full story.

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