Utah/Statistical claims/Suicide rate among Mormons

Table of Contents




Critics charge that the suicide rate in Utah is higher than the national average, and that this demonstrates that being a Latter-day Saint is psychologically unhealthy.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here




On a geographical basis, Utah performs well on rates of suicide. This may be correlated to the willingness of Utah's population to seek treatment, as evidenced by rates of anti-depressant medication prescription. (See LDS antidepressant use.) Religion is generally protective against suicide, and studies on Latter-day Saints bear this out.

It is unfortunate that critics wish to trivialize a serious problem such as suicide—a leading cause of death in the United States—by using it as a club to beat a specific religion. They do this without any data implicating the Church, and much data which argues against the patients' religion as a causative factor.

Religion is generally a patient's ally in mental health. Cheap slogans and finger pointing do nothing to help address the real problems faced by the mentally ill who are at risk of depression, schizophrenia, and other risk factors for suicide. While Utah does well in comparison to its neighbors, there is clearly much to be done to understand the western United States' higher suicide rates, and to help lower the rates of suicide and attempted suicide nationally and internationally.

Critics should avoid concluding that Utah data = Mormon data. This is often not true, and in this case the Mormon influence may be lowering Utah's suicide rates below those of its neighboring states.

If we follow the flawed logic of the critics, one is better off as an American by not being a Southern Baptist, since states in which they are the most common religion almost always have worse suicide rates than the nation as a whole. Clearly this logic is specious and ought to be rejected.

Detailed Analysis

Note that the intermountain and western US has consistently higher suicide rates than most other states. The "suicide belt" shown here has been noted, however, since at least the 1980s (see Seiden, "Death in the West," (1984) cited below in endnotes). Source of data:McIntosh (2004), cited below. Map by Mike Parker for FAIR, © 2007.

As is often the case, critics do not tell the whole story.

The data underlying this attack come from U.S. death data. Studies of cause of death (using ICD-10 codes X60-X84, Y87.0) have been extracted by state. In 2002, Utah ranked #11 (tied with Oregon) in the nation for number of suicides per 100,000 people in the population.[1]

Geographic differences

It has long been recognized that the intermountain United States — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico — has a higher suicide rate than the rest of the country, in what has been labeled the "suicide belt."[2] The reasons for this are not entirely clear, though numerous theories have been advanced.[3]

The critics also do not tell us that of these high-risk states, Utah has one of the lowest suicide rates:

State Rank (1 is worst)
2002 data
Suicide rate per 100,000
2002 Data
Rank (1 is worst)
2004 data
Suicide rate per 100,000
2004 Data
New Mexico

(Note that relatively small numbers can make rankings fluctuate from year to year, and that aggregate data from several years is the most reliable measure of suicide rates.)[4]

The role of religion

Critics hope that by condemning Utah, readers will condemn the LDS Church by association.

However, government studies on suicide rate do not cite religion or spiritual beliefs. One cannot extrapolate from these data and presume that the LDS population is the "reason" for the higher suicide rates. Since the suicide rates are lower than the surrounding north western states, one could just as easily conclude that the LDS Church protects against suicide!

Critics also ignore that religion is generally a protective factor against suicide; religions provide both social support for people who are struggling, and religious beliefs which condemn suicide can be a disincentive to acting on suicidal thoughts.[5] Studies of "high religious groups" (including LDS) have shown benefits for emotional maturity, self-esteem, and lower depression rates.[6] Studies of countries with high levels of religious belief have shown a correlation with lower rates of suicide.[7]

Some studies of LDS patients and non-LDS patients have shown no differences in the rate of suicidality based on being homemakers and working outside of the home.[8] Suicide rates in LDS patients went down as their religious involvement went up.[9] Inactive LDS males experience a suicide rate roughly four times that of active LDS males. Non-LDS males experience a suicide rate roughly six times that of active LDS males.[10] This same research shows that U.S. white males (aged 20-34) had suicide rates two and one-half to seven times that of active LDS males of equal age. Active LDS males, aged 15–19, have an equal suicide rate to that of national rates.[11]

Evangelical Christians and suicide

Since many of the critics who attack the Church on this issue are conservative Evangelical protestants, it is perhaps fair to ask how well Evangelicals fare on measures of mental health when the same shoddy methodology is applied to them.

If we play the same game as the evangelical critics, we could choose the states with high concentrations of conservative Protestants. There are thirteen states in which the Southern Baptist Convention has more congregations than any other denomination.[12] The suicide rates for these states are tabulated below:[13]

State Rank (1 is worst)
2004 data
Suicide rate per 100,000
2004 Data
US National average > 36 11.1
Alabama 24 12.1
Arkansas 20 13.1
Florida 15 13.7
Georgia 36 10.9
Kentucky 16 (tie) 13.5
Louisiana 27 11.9
Mississippi 23 12.1
Missouri 22 12.4
North Carolina 14 12.0
Oklahoma 14 14.4
South Carolina 19 11.5
Tennessee 18 (tie) 13.4
Texas 39 10.2
Utah 9 15.6

All but three of these states are in the top half of suicides, and all but two (Georgia at 10.9 and Texas at 10.2/100,000) are above the national average.

Differences are small

A closer look at the numbers shows that supposedly "Mormon" Utah is not that different from the "conservative Protestant Bible belt."

The relatively low numbers of suicides, when compared to the whole population, can mislead us. Utah ranks #9, and Texas fares best at #39. Utah's 2006 population was estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau at 2,550,063.[14] We can thus calculate:

The difference between the rates is:
15.6 - 10.2/100,000 = 5.4/100,000.

Number of "units" of 100,000 people: 2,550,063 / 100,000 = 25.5

Number of "additional" suicides compared to Texas: 25.5 units of /100,000 x 5.4/100,000 = 138 suicides

Thus, Utah's higher suicide rate results in 138 more suicides than it would if it had the rate of Texas. Each suicide is a tragedy, but these relatively small figures demonstrate how cautious we must be creating "single cause" models of a complex phenomenon like suicide, since small shifts in numbers (Utah had only 377 suicides in 2004, versus 2300 for Texas) can markedly impact rates.

It is far more likely, that (as with Utah) the higher-than-average suicide rates of the thirteen states examined above are due to factors which they share with the intermountain west, such as lower population densities, a more rural lifestyle, etc. And, just as active membership in the LDS faith is protective against suicide, so too membership in conservative Christian denominations likely has similar psychological benefits.




  1. [note]  K.D. Kochanek, S.L. Murphy, R.N. Anderson, C. Scott "Deaths: Final data for 2002. National Vital Statistics Reports," 53/5 (2004), Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 2005-1120. (p. 92, Table 29) [data are by place of residence]. PDF link
  2. [note]  Matt Wray, "Suicide Trends and Prevention in Nevada," Dept of Sociology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas from Justice & Democracy Forum, 5 November 2004. (Accessed 30 August 2007). off-site
  3. [note]  Some suggested reasons have included: lower population density, greater proportion of males, larger Hispanic and American-Indian populations, heavier alcohol consumption: See Richard H. Seiden, "Death in the West — A Regional Analysis of the Youthful Suicide Rate," West J Med 140/6 (June 1984): 969–973. off-site Risk is also thought to increase with weak social institutions, low social capital, areas of rapid population growth, gun ownership and a "frontier culture" of individualism and self-reliance: see Wray, cited above.
  4. [note]  John L. McIntosh, "Rate, Number, and Ranking of Suicide for Each U.S.A. State*, 2004," American Association of Suicidology (accessed 30 August 2007). PDF link
  5. [note]  See, for example, "Suicide Prevention: Scientific Information: Risk and Protective Factors," National Institute of Mental Health off-site; AM Schapman, HM Inderbitzen-Nolan, "The role of religious behaviour in adolescent depressive and anxious symptomatology," J Adolesc 25 (2002): 631-643; S Cotton, E Larkin, A. Hoopes, et al, "The impact of adolescent spirituality on depressive symptoms and health risk behaviors," J Adolesc Health 36 (2005): 529e7–529.e14; DB Larson & HG Koenig, "Is God good for your health? The role of spirituality in medical care," Cleve Clin J Med 67/2 (2000): 83–84; DBSJ Larson & ME McCullough, Scientifc research on spirituality and health: a consensus report (Rockville, MD: National Institute of Healthcare Research, 1997).
  6. [note] LC Jensen, J Jensen, T Wiederhold, "Religiosity, denomination, and mental health among young men and women," Psychological Reports 72 (3 Pt 2) on (1 June 1993) 1157–1158.
  7. [note]  "In More Religious Countries, Lower Suicide Rates." Gallup survey analysis, 3 July 2008. off-site
  8. [note]  Largest Religious Groups in the United States: Religious Bodies which have the Most Congregations of any Denomination in One or More States, 1990," adherents.com (Accessed 30 August 2007). off-site
  9. [note]  DC Spendlove, DW West, WM Stanish, "Risk factors and the prevalence of depression in Mormon women," Soc Sci Med 18/6 (1984):491–495.
  10. [note]  SC Hilton, GW Fellingham, JL Lyon, "Suicide rates and religious commitment in young adult males in Utah," American Journal of Epidemiology 155/5 (1 March 2002): 413–419.
  11. [note]  Gilbert W. Fellingham, Kyle McBride, H. Dennis Tolley, and Joseph L. Lyon, "Statistics on Suicide and LDS Church Involvement in Males Age 15-34," Brigham Young University Studies 39 no. 2 (2000), 177. off-site
  12. [note]  Fellingham et al., 179.
  13. [note]  John L. McIntosh, "Rate, Number, and Ranking of Suicide for Each U.S.A. State*, 2004," American Association of Suicidology (accessed 30 August 2007). PDF link
  14. [note]  U.S. Census Bureau, 2006 Population Estimate (Utah). (Accessed 30 August 2007). off-site

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims