It was 1835. In a small Illinois town, a young man who had been living on his own was now moving in with the Green family, and just about everyone in town knew why. The Greens were worried about him. Bowling Green, the father of the house, had witnessed the boy’s behavior for weeks – and it wasn’t a pretty picture. After a dear friend died of a fever (an adversity made worse by a bout of bad weather), the young man was overcome with a debilitating sadness. He grew despondent, spoke often of suicide, and wandered alone in the woods for hours. When several weeks had gone by and his friend did not get better, Mr. Green insisted the boy come stay with him for a while. This the young man did, and after enjoying the Greens’ company for a few weeks, he moved back home. He was still rather melancholy, but recovered from the overwhelming depression of before. It would not be the last time this man would struggle with the disorder. Abraham Lincoln would have to cope with depression for the rest of his life.
If depression could cause someone like Lincoln to struggle, it should come as no surprise that many people around us suffer from depression, also. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7% of American adults suffer from Major Depressive Disorder in a given year, with Persistent Depressive Disorder (a more long-term form of depression) affecting 1.5% of Americans. Depression is especially common in Utah. According to a study by Mental Health America, Utah is the most depressed state in the U.S.4 Another study found that “antidepressants are prescribed in Utah more often than in any other state, at a rate nearly twice the national average.” Clearly it’s a common struggle, and with the most depressed state being 60% Mormon, it’s obvious many Latter-day Saints suffer from depression.
However, despite the condition’s prevalence, Latter-day Saints suffering from depression can still feel out of place within the Church. With a gospel that celebrates the plan of happiness and a culture that values pep and positivity, those with depression can feel they are abnormal – a lone outlier in a group of happy-go-lucky saints.
But even though they may not show it, depression is a concern for many Mormons. Dr. Kristine Doty worked as a crisis counselor in the emergency room of the Utah Valley Medical Center. While there, she noticed a consistent influx of LDS women coming in for treatment, many of them on Sunday afternoons. But it’s not just the Relief Society sisters who suffer. One study found that mental health issues accounted for 36% of early missionary returns, with depression being one of the top three mental health conditions causing missionaries to come home early.8 This statistic does not account for the depression which can ensue after an early return due to feelings of failure – feelings reported by 73% of early-returned missionaries – nor does it account for depression experienced by those who serve for the anticipated length of time.
Prophets themselves have struggled with the disorder. Keep reading at Provo Mormon Dude.
Austin Wrathall is the writer of the weekly blog Provo Mormon Dude, which examines life in Utah Mormon culture. Austin was born and raised in West Jordan, Utah and is currently attending BYU pursuing a degree in Social Science Teaching. Besides writing, Austin’s favorite pastimes include swimming, playing Angry Birds, and doing anything that involves Star Wars.