The Provo-Orem area may be one of the nation's best places to live in terms of psychological well-being, but you'll probably have a hard time convincing local parents with large families that the ranking is synonymous with less stress.

According to an article in the latest issue of Psychology Today, the Provo-Orem area placed eighth out of 286 metropolitan areas in terms of psychological well-being. The Salt Lake City-Ogden area ranked 201, with State College, Pa., ranked the best and Reno, Nev., the worst.The rankings are the result of research by Robert Levine, a psychologist at California State University. He based his findings on rates of crime, suicide, alcoholism and divorce.

Brigham Young University psychology professor Allen Bergin, who is doing research on lifestyles and well-being, said Levine's statistical data ignore the question of psychological stress, and that people shouldn't assume the Provo-Orem area ranking means people here experience less stress.

"The problem with that study is that it was purely statistical," he said. "Their results are purely an inference. There was no index of how stressful life is because they never asked anybody how stressful life is. It (the study) measured what it measured, but it's a mistake to say it had anything to do with stress. There was no methodology to connect it with stress."

Bergin said some metropolitan areas are more conducive to psychological well-being, and areas of low crime, suicide, alcoholism and divorce rates could contribute to lower stress levels.

"I think it (Provo-Orem) may be a less stressful area, but I don't think that study proved it," Bergin said. "I think it's a wonderful place myself. To me it's less stressful that Salt Lake."

People who come from happy, healthy families likely lead less stressful lives, Bergin said.

"But having teens at home is more stressful. Perhaps there's more stress here because of it. Yuppies who live in urban centers probably have less stress" than parents with many children.

Less stress doesn't necessarily mean more happiness, Bergin added. "Stress is in your head anyway. You could put two people in the same environment, and they would perceive it differently."

Even highly religious areas don't guarantee less stress among all community members. In some people, their religion can be a source of comfort, while in others it can be a source of stress.

"The difference is in how people deal with their religious duties," he said. "We haven't really proved religious lifestyle here is a powerful force for mental health, but it certainly doesn't hurt. More religiously active people seem to function better on the average than the less involved."

Steve Densley, Orem-Provo Chamber of Commerce executive director, said religion plays a dominant role in promoting local community camaraderie, which contributes to a healthy mental environment. In addition, "Provo and Orem have so many things to offer people. I lived in State College (Pa.), and this place is better."

Raylene Ireland, chief administrative assistant to Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins, said, "People here watch out for their neighbor. People here use their time and energies to make a difference in the community, and the people value law and order. Altogether, this translates into a quality of life that is unique and is undoubtedly the reason we surface in this study."

And besides, added Utah County Commission Chairman Malcolm Beck, "We don't have traffic tie-ups."

The top ten

Here are the top places to live in terms of psychological well-being:*

1. State College, Pa.

2. Grand Forks, N.D.

3. St. Cloud, Minn.

4. Rochester, Minn.

5. McAllen-Pharr, Texas.

6. Altoona, Pa.

7. Bloomington, Ind.

8. Provo-Orem, Utah.

9. Utica, N.Y.

10. Akron, Ohio.

201. Salt Lake City-Ogden

*According to Psychology Today article