There are many new things to learn when moving into the Mormon Culture Region. I have now encountered methamphetamine abuse (in the Northeast, there’s plenty of drug abuse, just no meth per se that I ever encountered), and I have now encountered a set of conspiracy theories that blame Mormonism and/or its culture for a variety of social woes. I have learned (incorrectly, though repeated on national television) that Mormon women use a disproportionate amount of anti-depressant drugs (one of the more confusing claims, given the medical consensus for ensuring that depression is adequately treated), Mormons are to blame for the extremely high rates of prescription narcotic abuse (though these data are never compared with total narcotic abuse statistics), and most recently for me, Mormons are to blame for Utah having the “third-highest rate” of meth abuse in the nation (despite actual federal statistics–http://drugabusestatistics.samhsa.gov/2k5/meth/meth.htm–indicating that in the afflicted West, Utah is lower than average).
I should be clear: I feel desperately sad for those affected by substance abuse and am glad to pay higher taxes in order to assure access to needed services, and I do worry about the pressures that our society imposes on women (speaking of US society generally and MCR-Mormon society specifically). Further, solid, empirical data could persuade me that Mormon culture contributes to meth addiction.
I will also confess that I have not performed a literature search to evaluate the state of current evidence. I have several observations and questions, and I am glad to be corrected if in error.
My first observation is that in comparison with the life I just left in a major Northeastern city, Utah is amazingly low-pressure. Sure, there’s a lot of materialism that makes me queasy, but all-told, this (Mid)Western ethos has been a breath of fresh air. For those who feel Mormon society is too focused on excellence, too exhausting, try a decade or two in major cities on the coasts. Not only are we expected to maintain our homes and our children’s grades, we’re expected to beat everyone else in the academy, in the workplace, in the world. The implication that the excellence focus of MCR Mormonism is uniquely potent or widespread seems to be based in something other than fact. Before, taking a weekend off was a sign of weakness. Here, working on weekends is a sign of obsession.
My second observation is that in fact Wyoming, Nevada, and Montana appear to be harder hit than Utah, based on federal statistics. These four states have in common their distance from the coasts and their Mountain Western heritage rather than their Mormonism.
My third observation is that these statistics about Utah drug abuse never seem to pose the question of whether overall drug abuse is similar to other states. What does it mean if instead of taking heroin or intravenous cocaine, Utahns at risk take meth? Is there a difference between XTC abuse and meth abuse? Before indicting a cultural strawman, we should at least be careful about our facts.
Also, a question. What are the data on risk factors for meth addiction? Has anyone actually studied this?
Finally, what does the persistence of what appears to be an urban myth signify? Why the pervasive belief that Mormons are more mentally ill than their neighbors, whether expressed as inaccurate data about anti-depressant use or complaints about particular types of substance abuse? Is it anger at the teetotalling Mormons who smile more than they ought to? Is it an attempt to medicalize or objectivize concerns about the stress of a pietistic and apparently middle-class faith?