Mormonism Doesn’t Influence Suicide

By By U Wire

By U Wire

Craig KartchnerThe Daily Universe Brigham Young University

PROVO?Utah is the land of Jell-O and funeral potatoes, but it also has a more somber quirk.

The Beehive State is included in the region with the highest suicide rate in the nation.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports suicide accounts for 14.3 percent of violent deaths in Utah, compared to 9.4 percent in the United States.

Suicide was the No. 1 cause of death in Utah for 25- to 44 year-old men, and the second leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 24. The state has been above the national average for suicides several decades in a row.

Sterling C. Hilton, assistant professor in the Brigham Young University statistics department, said the natural tendency is to assume that since Utah has a predominantly Latter-day Saint population, the Mormon Church must contribute to the level of depression and suicides in Utah.

But he and other BYU statisticians recently conducted a study that concluded just the opposite is true.

“No evidence suggests that church demands and pressures on its members account for the high suicide rate in Utah,” Hilton said.

The study, published in the March 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, targeted Utah men between the ages of 15 and 34, and cross-referenced their activity in the LDS Church.

Active members were found to be seven times less likely to commit suicide than their less active peers, according to the study.

“Many factors of religiosity relate to lowered suicide rates,” Hilton said.

Hilton said activity in any religion decreased the risk of suicide. But adherence to the Latter-day Saint faith in particular lowered the chances of suicide because the church prohibits alcohol use outright, whereas most religions only discourage alcohol abuse.

Alcohol abuse is directly linked to suicidal tendencies, he said.

The study does not account for the higher suicide rate in Utah overall, a statistic that has baffled sociologists for decades.

Dan Judd, author of “Religion, Mental Health, and the Latter day Saints,” found that suicide rates at BYU are lower than those at other college campuses, and contends that it’s spurious to assume that depression or suicides are linked to the church.

Mirroring Utah’s suicide rate is the level of anti-depressant usage.

More Utahns take Prozac style drugs than in any other state, according to a study conducted in June of 2001 by Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management firm.

The study indicated that Utah residents average 1.1 prescriptions per person per year of medications such as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. The national average is 0.7.

Judd said Utah women, the group accounting for the largest percentage of anti depressant use, are under larger amounts of stress than their counterparts in other states because of large family size in Utah.