Utah has highest rate of mental illness in US

Any mental illness in the past year among persons aged 18 or older, by state. Courtesy of Samhsa.gov

Happy Valley? Maybe not so much.

Or, at least not for everyone.

Utah ranks the highest in the nation for the percentage of adults who have experienced any mental illness in the past year. That was 22.3 percent; the lowest was New Jersey at 14.7 percent. Nationally, it means 42.5 million adults, or 18.2 percent, experienced mental illnesses within the year.

For serious mental illnesses, Utah still ranked near the top, with 5.14 percent. Washington had the same percentage. West Virginia was at first place, with 5.48 percent; Oklahoma was in second with 5.24 percent.

Of those with a serious mental illness, which was defined across the nation as having the most urgent need for treatment, only 62.9 percent had received treatment in the past 12 months.

Related studies bear the same trends.

"When you are looking at the national suicide statistics, Utah is very high," said Juergen Korbanka, the CEO of Wasatch Mental Health in Provo. "The mountainous states have higher rates of mental illness and suicide."

Various reasons have been suggested, but Korbanka said no one really knows why Utah has such high rates.

Some have suggested Utah's high birth rate as one possible cause for depression but Korbanka said that was not likely.

"When you are looking at the map, all the Rocky Mountain states seem to be in the high end of the prevalence," he said. "The birth rate alone wouldn't account for that."

Neither would the altitude as some have suggested, as some of the lower altitude states were in the same category.

The Utah culture of family togetherness and support may have a bearing on the numbers.

"People might have more attention paid and those in other areas may tend to cover things up," he said. "When you have more family orientation, people tend to interact more." And with that, they may notice concerns which prompt them to recommend getting help.

There is both good news and bad.

"We may be the worst in the nation," he said. "But the good news is that help is available."

"We have a very solid and good community mental health system," he said. "That is probably different from quite a few other states."

Leslie Klein, a certified peer specialist with Wasatch Mental Health, knows both sides of the picture.

"I am in recovery and have been for the past 14 years," she said. She said she has been living with her mental health disorder for 51 years. "My recovery is ongoing and will be the rest of my life. I have a mental health disorder, but I am mentally healthy.

"I don't like to be defined by a mental health diagnosis," she said. "That is a label."

Nor does she like others to have that same label or the stigma that often goes with it. She had an idea why Utah leads the nation in mental illness, which includes depression.

"One of the biggest reasons in my mind is that Utah has a culture, I feel, we seem to have a perfectionist viewpoint," she said. Perfection being unattainable, people lose sight of their actual accomplishments and good points and become depressed.

Because there is a stigma associated with any mental illness, people often postpone getting help.

"People wait to be diagnosed, therefore their condition is far worse than it needs to be," she said. "I think they suffer needlessly because of it."

She noted eight dimensions of wellness: social, emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, financial, environmental and spiritual.

"Those are what makes a person well," she said. Mental illness is dimensional, and can affect one or more of those areas. There is not just one type, she said.

And mental illness can have severe consequences.

Often people do not like to speak about mental illness, either because of the stigma still associated with it, or a lack of knowledge.

In the past it was similarly unknown to speak about breast cancer, but times have changed. People are not only talking about it, but getting help and therefore surviving the otherwise death notice.

Amanda Thompson, executive director of Empowerment Services, posted comments about a friend who expressed concerns.

"They have come a long way considering that there was a time not so long ago that speaking of breast cancer was considered taboo and there was little awareness about the illness," she wrote.

She said she was grateful for life-saving treatments and support given to breast cancer patients.

"I have to ask though, why can't we provide the same compassion, empathy and support for people who are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and others?" she wrote.

"Their illnesses are as real and painful. It is no more their fault than a diagnosis of breast cancer is anyone's fault. Yet, people with a mental illness often face stigma, discrimination, shame, judgement, humiliation, bullying and even abuse within the system."

Cancer can be deadly, but mental illness can also take its toll.

In 2010, 38,364 people died from suicide, an average of 105 people a day.

"Treating mental illness, eliminating barriers for people seeking treatment [which often results from stigma and discrimination] and providing empathetic support for people who are experiencing these often debilitating illnesses is as important as continuing the successes with breast cancer support, treatment and awareness," she wrote.

Klein agreed, and said those who suffer from mental illnesses often deal with death.

Across the nation, people with a serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than the general population.

"In Utah that is 29 years earlier than the general population," she said.

The most important message she could give SEmD seek help.

"Go see a mental health professional or a behavioral health specialist," she said. "In Utah we tend to go lot to our religious advisers, but they are not trained professionals. There is no shame in seeking help."

Korbanka echoed the plea, and listed some signs that family members or others may observe which could signal the need for help.

"Withdrawal from social contact, irritability and less inclination to engage in social activities can be signs of mental illness," he said.

-- Barbara Christiansen covers news in American Fork government, schools, residents, business and more. You can connect with Barbara by emailing her at bchristiansen@heraldextra.com

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