What do Mormon women and Prozac have in common? Quite a bit, because research has shown that “Utah residents currently use more antidepressant drugs, notably Prozac, than the residents of any other US state.”* Since over 70% of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is an obvious link between Mormonism and depression. According to this same research, the problem is more noticeable among women than men. This data can be shocking if all someone knows about the LDS church is what is seen on the TV commercials. These families seem so happy and the husband and wife seem to have such a great marriage. Why this apparent contradiction?
What most people do not see is the “pressure-cooker” environment that these women endure day-in and day-out. When you peel off the mask of Mormonism from these women’s faces, what you see is immense pain. Does LDS theology contribute to the problem? Most definitely. Basic Mormon teaching emphasizes the need for perfection. The most inexperienced LDS missionary will be able to quote Mathew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The LDS take this command very seriously. When you combine this requirement with the role of having larger-than-average families, the problem is understandable for the women. She is expected to bear and raise as many children as possible, take care of the home, be supportive of her husband in his career (sometimes even work outside the home to pay for his higher education), be active in her church callings and duties, and serve in the community. Sometimes the pressure to fulfill all these roles becomes unbearable.
A story may illustrate this in a more vivid way. This is taken from the LDS Stephen E. Robinson’s book “Believing Christ” p. 14-16 where he tells us about his wife, Janet. Mr. Robinson is a religion professor at Brigham Young University.
A number of years ago our family lived in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Things were pretty good there. .. Janet had a particularly exciting year that year. Besides being Relief Society president, she graduated from college for the second time (in accounting), she passed the CPA exam and took a job with a local firm, and she gave birth to our fourth child (Michael)—all in her spare time, of course. Actually, Janet was under a lot of pressure that year, but like many husbands, I didn’t notice or appreciate how much pressure she was under until something blew. And blow it did.
One day the lights just went out. It was as though Janet had died to spiritual things; she had burned out… One of the worst aspects of this sudden change was that Janet wouldn’t talk about it; she wouldn’t tell me what was wrong.
Finally, after almost two weeks, I made her mad with my nagging one night as we lay in bed, and she said, “All right. Do you want to know what’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong—I can’t do it anymore. I can’t lift it. My load is just too heavy. I can’t do all the things I’m supposed to. I can’t get up at 5:30, and bake bread, and sew clothes, and help the kids with their homework, and do my own homework, and make their lunches, and do the housework, and do my Relief Society stuff, and have scripture study, and do my genealogy, and write my congressman, and go to PTA meetings, and get our year’s supply organized, and go to my stake meetings, and write the missionaries . . . ” She just started naming, one after the other, all the things she couldn’t do or couldn’t do perfectly—all the individual bricks that had been laid on her back in the name of perfection until they had crushed the light out of her… “I’m just not perfect—I’m never going to be perfect, and I just can’t pretend anymore that I am. I’ve finally admitted to myself that I can’t make it to the celestial kingdom, so why should I break my back trying?”
Janet Robinson’s feelings are very typical of how many Mormon women feel. She had obviously come to the place where she was facing the doctrine that her church had taught her and being honest with herself about her inability to live up to it. When Mormon women become born-again Christians, many of these pressures are still hard to gain freedom from. It has been so ingrained in them from childhood that they must be perfect. One of my favorite verses to help in this process when discipling these women is Romans 8:1&2 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Because through Christ Jesus, the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” I always like to point out what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that there is “some” condemnation. Also, the spirit of life “sets me free”, not “keeps me bound”. These truths are part of what it takes to free these women from what the LDS church has led them to believe that God requires.
When discussing this topic with some of the women that I’m discipling, the conversation became very lively! They all agreed that many more are clinically depressed who don’t do anything about it. They cannot even acknowledge or call attention to the fact that they’re struggling because to do so would be an admission that they are not living up to the Church’s standards. When they had these feelings themselves, they immediately assumed that the problem was with them, not their Church, because the Church is perfect.they just needed to try harder. One woman illustrated it this way from her life’s experience: “LDS women are put up on a pedestal for all to see. They are expected to stay on this pedestal at all times, so this pedestal becomes a prison with barbed-wire fence around it. There are alligators all around the pedestal in the water below. If she falls off her pedestal, she will be completely destroyed.” This is NOT the abundant life that Jesus talked about in John 10:10. Also, they all commented on the fact that so many LDS women are unhappy in their marriages. Many of their family members had married only after a few months of knowing their mate. This occurs because there is so much emphasis on the Mormon young women that their greatest calling is to find a mate and start a family. This prevents them from being very careful and really taking the time to make sure that they are compatible.
Why discuss the life of the LDS woman in this way? My purpose is to enlighten as many as I can so that, as Christians, our hearts will break for the LDS women that we know and compel us to reach out to them and share the truly good news of Jesus with them.