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Why high antidepressant use in Utah?

BYU professor says LDS Church is not to blame

PROVO — The LDS Church shouldn't be blamed for Utah's reputation as the runaway leader in antidepressant use, says a Brigham Young University professor.

And membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clearly has a positive influence on mental health, according to Daniel K. Judd's review of 540 studies on religion and mental health.

"With few exceptions, Latter-day Saints who live their lives consistent with the teachings of the (church) experience greater well-being, increased marital and family stability, less delinquency, less depression, less anxiety, less suicide and less substance abuse than those who do not," Judd said Tuesday during a BYU Forum on campus.

Judd earned a doctoral degree in counseling psychology at BYU, where he is a professor of ancient scripture. He has focused for a decade on the mental health of the membership of the LDS Church.

In 2001, a pharmacy benefits company released a study of its members that showed Utahns gulped down more anti-depressants in 2000 than residents of any other state.

National media outlets did stories, including one published by the Los Angeles Times during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Since then, some psychiatrists and church critics have speculated the LDS faith and culture had something to do with Utahns using antidepressants at twice the rate Californians did. Some critics say the church or its culture demands too much of members, especially women. About 70 percent of Utahns are church members.

Judd said there are no studies that explain the higher use of antidepressants in Utah, or for that matter in Maine and Oregon — the other two states with high rates of anti-depressant use.

Judd also offered an explanation of his own.

"Perhaps one of the reasons the residents of Utah lead the nation in the use of antidepressants is that since they are generally more educated and aware of the symptoms and treatments of depression, they are more likely than the residents of other states to seek medical treatment."

In fact, he said, a closer look at the pharmacy study showed Utahns did appear more likely to seek medical help. The state also ranked first in the use of narcotic painkillers and was in the top three in prescriptions for thyroid medications, anticonvulsants and anti-rheumatics.

Overall, Utah ranked seventh in total prescriptions.

The president of the Utah Psychiatric Association thinks Judd could be right. Dr. Michael Kalm said Utahns, for example, are aware of world-class research conducted at the University of Utah's medical center.

"We may be more willing to seek cutting-edge, scientifically based treatment for these disorders, including antidepressants," Kalm said.

Utah's LDS population also might more readily turn to the medical profession for help because the church advises members not to use alcohol and tobacco. Research indicates Latter-day Saints in Utah and elsewhere are less likely to self-medicate, Judd said, with those drugs or illegal drugs.

Judd said recent surveys show that some LDS women report higher incidences of depression than women outside the church, but added, "I am not aware of any study using standardized psychometric tests that associates Latter-day Saint belief or practice with increased depression among LDS women, men, adolescents or children."

Judd began to review studies on religion and mental health in 1983. His look at 540 studies that measured both mental health and any religious affiliation, belief or practice showed that 51 percent found a positive association between religion and mental health. Sixteen percent indicated a negative relationship.

"The majority of studies I have reviewed are supportive of the assertion that religious belief, and most especially faithful religious devotion, facilitates mental health, marital cohesion and family stability," Judd said.

The positive association held true for most religions.

His review also found that 71 percent of studies regarding LDS samples indicated a positive relationship, with 4 percent negative, 24 percent neutral and 1 percent mixed.

Critics have also blamed LDS Church teachings and practices for a higher-than-average rate of suicide in Utah, but Judd cited a study by BYU and University of Utah professors, published in 2002, that found the suicide rate among young men active in the LDS Church was significantly lower than among young men not active or not members of the church. The results replicated a similar study published 20 years earlier and was consistent with other studies.

He said recent research also shows that the divorce rate among LDS couples falls below the national average.

None of the findings should leave the impression LDS Church members are superior to or have fewer challenges than other people, Judd said.

He also cautioned against perfectionism, acknowledging that LDS culture does lead some members to attempt too much.

"It's not our theology that's at fault," he said during a question-and-answer session. "It's our culture, at times. The doctrine isn't, 'Come unto me, all ye heavy laden, and I'll give you more to do.' "

BYU holds forum assemblies several times each semester. Each forum is a lecture by established professors, either from BYU or other universities, or other experts who share research and insights from their life's work.