Depression in Mormon Women ‘Molly Mormon’ is the perfect woman. She never raises her voice. Her house is always sparkling clean and she excels in every church calling. She’s understanding and supportive of her husband and children. In essence, ‘Molly Mormon’ is the ideal wife, mother, helpmate, PTA leader, quilter, baker, and casserole maker; she is consistently well-groomed, cheerful and bright (Egan 1).
For many Latter Day Saint (LDS) women, the overwhelming pressure to be ‘Molly Mormon’ is unbearable.
LDS women are likely to develop depression due to the demanding and stressful role of being a Mormon mother in the twenty-first century. The standard answer for LDS women’s high depression rate is that they are overworked, heading large families, and struggling to meet expectations of perfection that are too high, said Dr. John H. Dickey, Ph.
D. and professor of psychology at Idaho State University during an interview. The subject of LDS women suffering from depression is a thorny matter; the LDS community bristles at its mention while many women feel the grip of the icy fingers of depression grow increasingly tighter. “In any dominant culture, particularly a religious one,” Dickey speculates, “there’s a lot of striving for an ideal that’s often unobtainable, whether it’s a spiritual one or has to do with lifestyle.
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The body needs an escape valve.” In most cases, the women suffering from depression don’t have an escape valve, let alone any idea of where to find Sroufe 2 one, instead they often self-destruct with prescription drugs. Anna Figureoa, 59, has kept her feelings suppressed for most of her life. Figureoa’s bloodshot eyes extended out of their socket as she struggled to recall how her depression began. She bit her fingernails, then stuffed them ashamedly between her ratty couch cushions before revealing she spent her childhood and teenage years in foster homes.
Five different men, including three who were LDS, molested Figureoa repeatedly. She blamed those experiences on herself, thus starting the swift spiral downward into despair. After attempting suicide for the eleventh time last November, she was sent to Sacramento, Calif. to a depression specialist. Everyday for two weeks, Figureoa underwent Electro convulsive therapy (ECT), in which electric currents are briefly applied to the brain. This procedure is used to help ease only the most severe cases of depression.
It had no effect on Figureoa except to rob her of memory and personality. Figureoa’s marriage to a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome began to crumble quickly in the late 1970’s. The physically and mentally abusive relationship took it’s toll and Figureoa succumbed to a nervous breakdown. Years later, Figureoa was relieved when her husband began collecting movies instead of abusing her. When she was no longer able to take care of her two young daughters she placed them foster homes. The self-inflicted loss of her children only deepened the wounds created from her dysfunctional marriage.
Figureoa fell away from the LDS church and began smoking again. She choked down quarter sized pills morning and night in attempt to control her depression. Profuse sweating, as well as muscle twitching, are some of the side effects of Figureoa’s medications. Her upper lip twitched when she stated that the sweating only got worse. She convinced herself Sroufe 3 that this was what she deserved for being such a bad child and incompetent mother. Pain flickered behind her eyes as she began viciously ripping at her nails with her mouth again.
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Figureoa bit her nails because she quit smoking five years ago during the process of becoming reactivated in the church in order to gain a temple recommend. She only made it to the temple once. She sat at home during ward temple trips, explaining to herself again how God does not love her, therefore she is too unworthy to enter His house. Figureoa was still suffering from severe depression in early June 2004, and was finally successful in taking her life that same month. Figureoa’s story is an extreme case because different women are impacted differently by depression, but many LDS women share similar stories.
For some women, to strive to be an excellent Relief-Society-oriented homemaker, mother of six, and faithful church worker is like Oprah Winfrey trying play professional basketball or Katie Couric trying to be happy as a seamstress. Many of these women discover that the “Superwoman powers” they pray for are what keeps them depressed. Dr. Curtis Canning of the Utah Psychiatric Association says that LDS women are more frequently surrendering to the concept that they have to be superwomen because the woman across the street “has three more kids than you and her hair is always in place” (qt d. in Cart 4).
They begin to focus only on keeping up with the Jones’. Continuously comparing oneself to others and over-achieving are not a practices endorsed by the LDS church. In fact, in his article “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall” Elder Dallin H. Oaks states that the “devilish diversions” of many church-goers are “the desire to sacrifice more than is needful, excess in giving, and inordinate church service” (12).
Yet the restrictive thought process these women share doesn’t allow them to alleviate Sroufe 4 their depression by changing their view of their role of homemaker and mother in the church. Unhappy LDS women sense that something is fundamentally wrong with thinking that all females are divinely recruited as soldiers in the army of God, recruited merely to scrub floors and pick up the children from soccer practice.
Dickey explains that the women who experience the severest strain in the harness feel the hymn, “Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel” (Thompson) should be titled, “Push Your Shoulder To The Yolk,” even “Haw!” or “Mush!” Women interviewed by Dickey say they ” ve noted that, more and more, LDS men chosen for ward and stake leadership positions are the types who though personable and administratively skilled, are sometimes too narrow in awareness to be mindful of this monotony, even after it has been brought repeatedly to their attention. The lack of observation and sensitivity from males holding leadership positions results in additional plugged emotion outlets for women. “The view never changes for these women, resulting in blocked personal growth,” said Dickey. The women harmed by blocked growth often experience further damage by being misunderstood and shunned by well-meaning LDS members. The well-meaning members who have joyful experiences are left unable to comprehend how the same church that benefit ted them could damage innocent people, especially since the church is defined as being beneficial for all (Mills Johnson).
Anne Hutchinson has long been seen as a strong religious dissenter who paved the way for religious freedom in the strictly Puritan environment of New England. Another interpretation of the controversy surrounding Anne Hutchinson asserts that she was simply a loving wife and mother whose charisma and personal ideas were misconstrued to be a radical religious movement. Since this alleged religious ...
Deborah Ogden, 48, shared similar feelings of blocked growth during an interview.
The conflicting and overpowering desire to be the very best in every aspect of her life and remain subservient to LDS men left Ogden in a pit of despair. She felt as though she was being pushed and prodded to not be independent from authoritarian males, while also encouraged to do all of the housework and child rearing on her own. Sroufe 5 When her interior design store went out of business, Ogden became lethargic. Her lethargy and oppression soon snowballed into full blown depression. Ogden didn’t want to risk asking for help from the people that were part of the cause of her depression, so she refrained from reaching out to her husband, bishop or even a therapist. “These feelings and concerns of being shunned come into play when I see these tormented LDS women.
They are reluctant to be seen by an LDS therapist because they worry that the therapist will put that same pressure on them,” said Dickey. These women, like Figureoa and Ogden, believe that any life path other than the one laid out for them by the Church is less godly and less worthy of a righteous LDS woman and would actually be traitorous of them. Therefore, out of the normal need for emotional survival, some women begin to look outside of the Church for some way that this immense burden may be lifted. An example would be when Figureoa began smoking again as a stress reliever. Emotional stress affects these women’s physical bodies and many times they experience side effects of anti-depressants even before going on antidepressants. In his article “Depression,” Cole Vaughn discusses some specific ailments from emotional stress: You gain a better understanding of many LDS women’s psychosomatic problems including auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and eczema, which develop when these women do not have control of their individual lives.
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(par. 8) For example, Figureoa carried a wet wash rag with her to wipe the away the constant beads of sweat that formed on her forehead and neck due to side effects of stress that were worsened by antidepressants. Antidepressant drugs are prescribed in Utah more often than in any other state, at a rate Sroufe 6 nearly twice the national average. Utah’s high usage was cited by one of the study’s authors as the most surprising finding to emerge from the data. The study was released during the summer of 2001 and updated in January 2002.
Other states with high antidepressant use were Maine and Oregon. Utah’s rate of antidepressant use was twice the rate of California and nearly three times the rates in New York and New Jersey (U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Egan 2).
The study did not break down drug use by gender, but according to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health, about twice as many women as men suffer from depressive disorders.
Discussion of the study’s results inevitably falls along Utah’s traditional fault lines. Some suggest that Utah’s unique Mormon culture-seventy percent of the state’s population belongs to the church-requires perfection and the public presentation of a happy face, whatever may be happening privately. The main argument caused by this study is that women in the church are beset by particular pressures and are not encouraged to acknowledge their struggles but are instead forced to turn to antidepressants. The study was conducted by Express Scripts Inc. , a St. Louis-based pharmaceutical company, which tracked prescriptions of twenty-four drug types in about two million people selected at random from its forty-eight million members.
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Those studied were enrolled in privately managed health-care programs, and the information gleaned from the study is intended for use by HMOs. Medicare and Medicaid recipients were not included in the study (Egan 2).
Emily Cox of Express Scripts, and one of the five authors of the study said, “There’s a lot of inferences being drawn from this. We can’t say if there is a higher probability for depression or depressive symptoms. You may have a population that seeks care for less severe symptoms. You may have a medical community that prescribes more readily” (qty.
in Egan 3).
Sroufe 7 Cindy Mann, who lives in Logan, said after 15 years of taking antidepressants and not feeling better, she finally quit in July of 2001. She now encourages others to do likewise, but she’s pessimistic (Cart 5).
Mann described the Salt Lake Valley: It’s like Happy Valley here. It’s a scary place sometimes. People don’t talk about their problems.
Everything is always rosy. That’s how we got ourselves into this mess — we ” re good at ignoring things (Cart 5).
Figureoa was diagnosed with lung disease several years before her death as a result of her lifelong smoking habit. She explained that smoking helped combat the feelings of loneliness and helplessness that her medications didn’t eliminate.
Figureoa blamed the Church for ignoring her problem yet admitted most of the blame rested on her shoulders for not bringing any of her problems to anybody’s attention until she was out of control. Women such as Figureoa internalize so much more self-deprecation due to these symptoms, that it has given them another reason to reach for Prozac, or what is most difficult in these cases- a phone or a computer to contact an LDS therapist who would be able to understand their plight (Moore).
In his article “Awake My Soul: Dealing Firmly with Depression” Steve Gilliland says that discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, and the yearning for immediate perfection are Satan’s method’s, not the Lord’s (37).
He urges church members to “turn off negative voices” and view their world rationally-oftentimes one will find that for as many things are going wrong, just as many are going right (37).
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Gilliland offers a list of suggestions to control or even eradicate depression: A depressed person usually punishes himself by doing few things he enjoys. Try Sroufe 8 new things, but also make a list of things you used to like doing: rearranging your furniture, making fancy snacks, washing your hair, eating out, visiting friends, discussing politics, playing ping-pong, telling someone you love him, going shopping, doing favors for people, and those all-important spiritual things-meditating, praying, reading scriptures (39).
Depression is a very treatable illness. More than 80 percent of people with depression can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both (U. S. Dept.
of Health and Human Services).
Despite these statistics, more than one-half of women surveyed in a study for the National Institute for Mental Health cited denial as a barrier to treatment, while 41 percent of women surveyed cited embarrassment or shame as barriers to treatment. Unfortunately, another one-half of women believe it is normal for a woman to be depressed and that treatment is not necessary. Again, more than one-half of women believe depression is a normal part of aging (U.
S. Dept. of Health and Human Services).
When it came to down to measuring self-esteem, Sherrie Mills Johnson, a sociologist and member of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, reported that LDS women scored roughly 10 percent below their national counterparts in rating their ability to “do things as well as other people.” Mills Johnson said the findings ‘could be a reflection of the higher standards that are espoused’ by the church. Utah’s large families-the biggest in the nation according to the 2000 Census-are often cited as a contributing factor to depression among LDS women (U.
S. Dept. of Health and Human Services).
Depression can become a female weakness; according to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime. Sroufe 9 It’s far too easy for LDS women striving for the perfection to slip into the muddy quagmire of depression under the stresses of large families and many church obligations.
Whether or not women will remain depressed requires the effort each woman-not each man-to “answer that question for herself, based on her inherent right to seek out information and decide what makes sense to her, allowing each woman to gain the needed and biologically necessary, control of her own mental and physical health” (Dickey).
Works Cited Cart, Julie. “Study Finds Utah Leads Nation in Antidepressant Use.” Los Angeles Times 20 Feb. 2002: A 4.
Dickey, John H. Telephone interview. 17 Aug. 2003.
Egan, Dan. “The Painful Side of Perfection.” Salt Lake City Tribune 22 Feb. 2000: D 1. Figureoa, Anna.
Personal interviews. 13, 15, 17 Aug. 2003. Gilliland, Steve.
“Awake My Soul: Dealing Firmly with Depression.” Ensign Aug. 1978: 37-40. Mills Johnson, Sherrie. Remarks at Assoc.
of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists. Salt Lake City, Utah. 2 Apr. 2004… Moore, Carrie A. “Study Elevates LDS Women” Deseret News 2 Apr.
2004. 10 June 2004… Oaks, Dallin H. “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall.” Ensign Oct.
1994: 11-14. Ogden, Deborah. Telephone interview. 15 Aug. 2003. Thompson, Will L.
“Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.” Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1985. United States. Dept. of Health and Human Services. LDS Women and Depression. August 2003.
10 June 2004. N. Pag… Vaughn, Cole. “Depression.” Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. 17.
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