Every now and then an article like this comes out (headline: Utah has highest rate of adults contemplating suicide, coalition says), and critics of the church hasten to pull long faces about how defects in Mormon doctrine and culture are harmful. Regarding this story, I’ve seen several ex-Mormon/anti-Mormon discussion boards nod sagely at the proposition that LDS doctrine teaches that we need to become perfect > no one is perfect > the discrepancy leads to despair > more suicides. And sure, that’s superficially plausible. Just-so stories are nice.
But I can come up with other explanations that just happen to match my own pre-existing beliefs and commitments. How about this: outside of LDS culture, many people, especially the young, are adopting biological determinism as their entire philosophical framework (i.e. everything you are and do is determined by your genes; there’s no soul or afterlife). If that’s what you sincerely believe, and meanwhile your brain is misfiring chemically so that you suffer clinical depression, why think that it can or should be fixed? The universe has no reasons why you can or should be happy. And so suicidal ideations go unreported and untreated.
Conversely, inside LDS culture, there’s a lot of attention to the concept that we are that we might have joy, God loves us, the atonement can fix and heal, and resurrection will solve our mortal bodies’ problems. Therefore if your brain is misfiring chemically so that you experience clinical depression, you are more likely to decide something is amiss and seek treatment. And so suicidal ideations are reported at a much higher rate than elsewhere, leading to headlines like today’s.
And how about this: Given that people who die of suicide tend to isolate themselves prior to harming themselves, perhaps in Utah more potential suicides are reported because it’s harder to isolate oneself in a Mormon culture. Home Teachers, Visiting Teachers, on-the-ball Bishops–there are a lot more opportunities for someone to find out about suicide potential, and to pass it on to ecclesiastical and then therapeutic channels. Mix that up with the mysteriously higher western US suicide rate (even altitude has been shown a possible risk factor), and voila–somewhat higher completed suicide rate, and much higher reported rate of contemplated suicide.
There are plenty of nits to pick in all that, but it’s at least as plausible as the “Mormonism is to blame” narrative.
Point is, such discussions tend to be based on really nothing more than what one wants to be true based upon one’s unrelated beliefs. Would that we were all psychiatrists and neuroscientists; as we’re not, let’s stop trying to pin tragedies on our enemies and instead think of a friend who seems unhappy and withdrawn. Reach out, and remember that a suffering person’s best view of Christ’s love might be exactly where you’re standing.