Antidepressants in Utah

Do Utahns use more antidepressants than non-Utahns? 

Yes. The most recent numbers—from 2019—showed Utah was ranked 16th in the nation for antidepressant use per capita.[1] However, earlier studies—from 2002 and 2008—ranked Utah as first in antidepressant usage per capita.[2]

Do members of the Church have a higher than normal use of antidepressants?

Possibly, but probably not. Geographic studies indicate that many areas with significant Latter-day Saint populations are less likely to use antidepressants.[3]

For example, Utah County has one of the highest Latter-day Saint populations in Utah,[4] but the Utah Department of Health reports that Provo—the largest city in Utah County—has the lowest antidepressant usage in Utah.[5] Idaho also has a large per capita Latter-day Saint population,[6] but it is below average for antidepressant usage.[7]

Are rates of depression in Utah higher than in other parts of the country?

Yes. In 2019, The Center for Disease Control reported that Utah had the 6th-highest suicide rate, and Statista reported that Utah had the 16th-highest rate of antidepressant prescriptions in the U.S.[8]

What are the reasons for this?

The research does not indicate a specific reason, but there is strong evidence that indicates that it has something to do with Utah's high elevation,[9] as many studies have connected depression and suicide rates with elevation.[10]

How does Utah measure up in positive mental health metrics?

Utah tends to score high on various measures of happiness and life satisfaction.[11]

How come there is high depression but high happiness and life satisfaction?

It's unclear. These paradoxical findings of high happiness rates combined with high suicide and depression rates are also found in other areas like some Scandinavian countries.[12] One possible theory is that the decision to commit suicide is driven by comparison effects, and people who are depressed could feel worse if they are in a happy context.[13]

Does the pressure to be “perfect” in the Latter-day Saint culture cause depression?

Possibly, but no studies have tested whether Latter-day Saint culture is connected to increased depression among Latter-day Saints. Various studies have looked into the mental health of Latter-day Saints in Utah, but the results are mixed.[14] Studies that look at Church members worldwide tend to show that Church members are mentally healthier.[15]

Is there any truth to the idea that because Latter-day Saint people don't drink alcohol, coffee, or smoke, they simply replace these coping mechanisms with antidepressants?

Possibly, but no there is no research on this. Researchers have studied the phenomenon of "drinking to cope,"[16] but there is no data that indicates that decreased drinking leads to increased antidepressant usage.

Is there a Church policy on using antidepressants or seeking therapy?

Yes. The Church's General Handbook states that bishops are to help suicide attempt victims obtain professional help.[17] Recent publications in official Church magazines or talks in General Conference have recommended the use of needed psychiatric medication.[18]

Some People Say . . .

"Depression? The gospel brings happiness and joy to our lives if we are living by its principles."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • Utah has a higher rate of antidepressant use than average; its exact ranking varies from survey to survey.

  • Studies on Latter-day Saints and depression show mixed results—some show that Latter-day Saint populations are less depressed, while others show they are more.

  • Studies show that populations in Utah have high levels of happiness and life satisfaction.

  • Studies show a strong correlation between elevation above sea level and depression and suicide rates.

  • Church leaders support the use of professional mental healthcare, including psychiatric counseling and medication.

Our Take

Mental illness is a very real challenge for many people and affects every aspect of life. Those who struggle with depression need love, empathy, community, and support.

It's unclear what is causing Utah to have an above-average use of antidepressants. Some point to the Church as a source of pressure or perfectionism that causes depression, but population studies seem to indicate a lower rate of antidepressant use in many of the largest Latter-day Saint communities. Others look at studies on the correlation between altitude and depression and suicide rates as an explanation.

As to whether or not Latter-day Saint populations have higher rates of depression than non-Latter-day Saint populations, the data is both limited and mixed.

Church leaders encourage members to seek out professional care for their mental health. Stigmatizing medication and mental health issues is unhelpful, and we should support people who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses.

If you, or someone you know is contemplating suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Mikaela B
    There's a history of mental illness in my family and I've grappled with it a lot. Part of getting along with it is understanding where depression comes from. I appreciate research about depression so I can focus on areas to improve, including in my relationship with the gospel.
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