UVU professor's study puts focus on LDS women and depression

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31 2013 9:45 p.m. MST

Overall, the women said the most effective strategies in dealing with depression are exercise and focusing on relationships with family and friends.

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OREM — LDS women in Utah are at risk for depression due to "toxic perfectionism" and a host of other cultural factors, according to a recent study presented at Utah Valley University Thursday.

UVU professor Kris Doty said she conducted a  "qualitative exploratory study" by repeatedly interviewing 20 women over a one-year period. The women were diagnosed as depressed, signed up for the study and identified themselves as active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In her findings, Doty identified five major factors that she said led to depression among the study's participants — genetics, history of abuse, family relationships, feeling judged by others and toxic perfectionism.

Doty said the church's teachings on striving for perfection led to misinterpretations and contributed to feelings of inadequacy.

"In the (Mormon and Utah) culture, people have just taken it too far," she said during the 2013 Mental Health Symposium at UVU's Sorensen Student Center. "They think they can't make a mistake and so they become hyper-competitive and anxious. If you think you can make no mistake, you're setting yourself up for failure."

Doty was the keynote speaker at the daylong symposium focused on depression. The event also included sessions dealing with various aspects of depression, including male depression, resources for families dealing with depression, and depression among college-age students.

Doty, a licensed clinical social worker and director of social work field education at UVU, said LDS women are frequently confronted by the perfect storm of unrealistic expectations, personal guilt and suppressed feelings.

"I put pressure on myself to be that perfect Mormon," said Lynette, an LDS woman interviewed for the study who declined to be identified by her full name. "If I'm teaching a class, I have to do it perfectly. (I was set on) being a perfect homemaker, always having the dishes done and the laundry done. … That's not real life though." 

Doty said the issue is seldom a topic of discussion in most Mormon circles.

"There's such a huge population of LDS people here. They practically live on top of each other," she said. "People get a sense that they're always on display, so that their neighbors will see the best of them rather than who they really are."

Melanie Parry, 27, another study participant, said depression is commonly misunderstood. 

"For me, it is something that will be there forever. It's kind of like losing weight. You can't just lose all your weight and then it will be gone forever," Parry said. "But you can get into a lifestyle and certain habits so you're not dealing with it every day." 

The average age of the women who participated in the study was 33. Seven of the women used multiple medications, 19 were on at least one pill and 10 sought therapy.

Overall, the women said the most effective strategies in dealing with depression are exercise and focusing on relationships with family and friends.

"Depression isn't just a 'here, fix it' issue," Lynette said. "It takes time, and you can't do it alone. … My husband has been a marvelous support."

Lynette said church leaders are helping to offer perspective.

"Especially recently, (church leaders) say, 'Give yourself a break. You don't have to be supermom. It's OK,'" she said.

Doty said the biggest obstacle in dealing with depression is an unwillingness to openly talk about it.

"We need to talk about it," she said. "We need to bring it out of the shadows."

E-mail: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @benlockhart89

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