Mormons and Suicide: The Real Stats

Critics of the Church have often said that Utah has a high suicide rate, and have blamed this on the stress that being Mormon imposes on its members. These claims are incorrect. The whole Mountain West has had a high suicide rate historically, but Utah has the lowest rate for that region.
In addition to basic statistical information on suicide offered on an LDSFAQ page of questions about Mormons, I have now learned of a scientific study published in 2002 about male suicide in Utah. The reference is Sterling C. Hilton, Gilbert W. Fellingham, and Joseph L. Lyon, “Suicide Rates and Religious Commitment in Young Adult Males in Utah,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 155, No. 5, 2002, pp. 413-419. The abstract, available online, follows:

Previous studies have used population data to demonstrate an inverse association between suicide rates and religious commitment. This report examines Utah suicide rates for young men aged 15–34 years, stratified by their membership in and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the predominant religion in Utah. All state death records for males from 1991 to 1995 were obtained and linked to LDS church deceased membership records to obtain a measure of religious commitment that is not self-reported. Religious commitment for LDS church members was determined by age-appropriate priesthood office. Of the 27,738 male deaths reported, 15,555 (56%) linked to an LDS church record using a probabilistic linking program. Using active (high religious commitment) LDS as the reference group, the less-active (low religious commitment) LDS group had relative risks of suicide ranging from 3.28 (ages 15–19 years) to 7.64 (ages 25–29 years); nonmembers of the LDS church had relative risks ranging from 3.43 (ages 15–19 years) to 6.27 (ages 20–24 years). Although the mechanism of the association is unclear, higher levels of religiosity appear to be inversely associated with suicide.

In other words, young less-active Mormon males and non-Mormon males had a vastly higher suicide rate than active Mormons, ranging from over three times to over six times higher, depending on the age group. The fruits of activity in the Church, contrary to the claims of anti-Mormons, appear to include a greatly reduced tendency to commit suicide, at least for young males.

(Why the West has high suicide is still unclear to most social scientists and was unclear to me, until I moved to Wisconsin, land of beauty, cheese, and the Packers, where believers and non-believers alike just have a lot more to live for.)


Author: Jeff Lindsay

9 thoughts on “Mormons and Suicide: The Real Stats

  1. The active males undoubtedly receive support and reinforcement from the Mormon community. The less-active and non-member males are more ostrecized. This study is nothing to be proud of.

  2. I think the high suicide rate for less active males and females is related to the guilt and cognitive dissonance they feel about leaving the church…which often involves leaving family and active friends who cannot or won’t support them for who they are or what they know to be true.

  3. I have to chuckle at Jeff’s comment about Wisconsin seemingly offering more. Actually its the other way around. I am not Mormon nor a follower in any particuluar faith. I do however believe in God and Jesus Christ.

    I actually moved to Utah from the northern Illinois area 10 years ago. I used to spend countless time in Wiscinsin… both working and playing in fact I’ve no doubt seen more of Wisconsin than Jeff has. I’ve been there done that so to say. After close to 11 years of living in Utah I’d have to say that Utah has way more going for it… The beauty you see in both places is just different but beauty non the less. Aside from all the beautiful State and National parks… more than any other state has but apparently you missed those someplace along the line… Utah also produces great cheese, has great micro brewries, one of the finest Symphonies in the world and 2 great football teams. Indeed Utah has vast beauty, Wisconsin has a different type of beauty, but mainly just in the Fall. At other times its just like any other Midwestern State.

    So Jeff… to me it seems that you are a bit lost yourself. I’ll take Utah any day over Wiscinsin

  4. Anonymous@Jan 15th, ummm… has it occurred to you that the less-active and non-member males aren’t making their own effort to receive the support that is in fact there?

    It’s a real slap in the face when we Mormons get accused of “ostracizing” non-members when our best efforts are, in fact, rebuffed by those to whom we are reaching out. (I speak from my own experience as well as many of my friends over many years.) Who’s actually getting ostracized here?

    If something from your own experience has caused you to feel this way, maybe you should consider that you only know your side of the story. Otherwise, it sounds like a knee-jerk reaction and an attempt to put negative spin on a positive story (support and reinforcement do not seem to be part of the study and therefore does not support your hypothesis).

    (* end rant *)

  5. Isa 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
    Isa 8:21 And they shall pass through it, hard pressed and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their god, and look upward.
    Isa 8:22 And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.

    I can’t imagine the confusion of one feeling the true calling of The One God while immersed in such a dark and empty tradition of man. How does a mere child resolve the inherent knowledge that those traditions are not of God but of man with the self image of being part of it?

    Those with eyes to see and ears to hear should make an effort to reach out to these children and validate their feelings that there’s more to God than they’ve ever been told, that they are God’s babies with the mere desire to be so; completely free of the past without having to abandon those they love. Christ never abandoned the lost…He wouldn’t expect us to either.

    No matter how you twist the numbers to make yourself feel better, it doesn’t change the fact that the book that you worship is false, it does not support the Bible, in fact is opposite of the Holy bible in many critical ways.

    The Word of God has been divinely protected from the beginning. Many texts exist to this very day and can be referenced, cross referenced, validated by archeology and history and even by astronomy and other religions. The Holy Word of God was written by the pens of many well known Holy men over thousands of years and in such a way as to confirm its validity to anyone with a desire to do the homework.

    The book of Mormon was “discovered” by a man who was a known criminal, “written” by people that no one on earth has ever heard of, and conveniently disappeared (gold’s never been cheap) so even if it had existed there is absolutely no way to verify it. Now that several of the “witnesses” to these alleged tablets have retracted their previous statements and made clear the spiritual nature of their experience (IE it was visionary, “seen” during trance state, not actually seen with the naked eyes or ever handled in any way.)it becomes clearer that The Word of God has spoken to this very subject:
    2Co 11:12 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off opportunity from them which desire opportunity; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.
    2Co 11:13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
    2Co 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

    If Joseph Smith saw an angel of light, that explains a lot.

  6. I am a private commentator! My friend committed suicide some years back and later another of the same family.Could it be that a certain procentage of all population has special genetics inherited and/or otherwise develop characteristics that may affect how they balance life. Religious or not. If too troubled minds have to struggle with further problems of life…partners leaving, money problems and so on, maybe the stress becomes too great for them to handle it wisely. I have found there are also always some members (you cannot really deny them the right to enter the buildings, but I think they too easily may carry on with this unnoticed) of the LDS church (which I am part of), that do not understand the essence of the LDS church nor the balance required in life. They would just drop the negative, unnecessary comments showing ignorance in this area, and may affect people around them. This is because of their bad character and not because they are members.
    The church offers activities and promotes a great variety in life. Through education, being active physically and socially and attempts to befriend each other through programs.
    However, the level of activity may differ greatly, and in some cases there is a great difference between one branch and another in what they try to achieve for the members with regards to getting in place a balanced program. The supervisory groups that are in place in the system, has the job of supervising to see that the programs and practices recommended are to some min. degree in place and with good people in charge.
    The major player locally is,however, the bishopric, and it is important that the posisions (although unpaid) are filled with persons of both intellectual and emotional capasity to approach emotional problems observed among members and thereby encourage professional treatment if necessary.
    The job is not easy because sick people will not recognise the signs and likely will not get treatment unless others organise it for them. This main progress towards treatment has to be instigated by other people than church leaders, but family and friends and church leaders where appropriate may take a lead. A person has free will unless a court has decided otherwise.
    Some people will just get filled up with wrong medicine that strengthens thir feeling of wanting to die and unless watched every second in proper treatment institutions, may eventually succeed in taking their own life. In cases I know, the professional care was not enough. Church and local care persons did everything in their might, but the professional structures and treatment failed badly.
    I would personally think this is the case also in Utah, life is very difficult for most and it is the societies’ responsibility to make systems that enables observations and concerns to be taken seriously in time and with carefully prescribed medicine and other help. However, one must all learn to accept individual choices so as to enable individuals to feel they have a right to live and to feel accepted and loved whatever they chose to do with their life as long as it does not harm any other. Maybe it is then possible to help.
    If they choose to leave the church for example they should be respected for this and wished good luck and a welcome back anytime message. The policy of the church is also to respect all and their choices. But very troubled minds are not easily changed by wishful thinking. In US weapens are too easily available everywhere for a start. Lack of decent, responsible fathers creates a world wide lack of role models and so on. It also requires politics where people are invariably seen as resources and cared for regardless of fast profit in the budgets. Many changes which can improve the actual mastering of life.
    Some always seem to support the commercial philosophy of request and demand and forget the underlying consequences that inevitably follow. Our LDS church books encourages us as members to “bear one another’s burdens” and to be equal, to share with those less fotunate, the idea being that one cannot be equal in heavenly things unless equal in earthly things.
    These are my own private views I think important to help balance for individuals inside LDS church or outside.

  7. I wrote a loong statement that got lost! All I said was do not let people overrun you in curch if some do, talk to leaders to have situations fixed with offending persons, you should be comfortable in church, not sad, whether you are active or not. And I guess families will always try to get all to agrre with them, like in a political debate maybe! But cheer up your value is undisputable whatever you or others may think! You are as valuable as every person in church or outside, this is a fact as I se it! I thinkn you should talk to a sensible leader in church about problems, and folow up with talks to a professional. Maybe he/she in church knows about some that are very good to talk to, many suffer from depression sometimes. I know of one prime ministe rthat needed 1 month of hi sposition in treatment too, then returned to carry on a good job as usual, we all nee help to master life sometimes, make sure you get some good help, and intelligent one. Not always just medications, but I should be careful as I know little about it, only my friend did not seem happy, there are so many kinds, some allowed in US are forbidden in Europe, so check all out if anything such is needed with different persons. My unprofessional advise, and see some happy and or excellent movies.
    Do not loose faith in people, the good ones are out there, and you are one of them!

  8. I commented earlier mentionning persons I kew well that chose to end their life,not in Utah though. The person mentionned were excellent people and had sound outlooks on life, but at one stage found life hard and may have developed to an illness that was not treated and controlled in the best way by authorities. Mediaction is hardly a long term solution is my opinion, may too easily handed out in Utah too????
    In Norway highest rates are said by some related to winterperiods and also supposedly found in areas of mondane landscape far away from sea. A comment from a very unprofessional onlooker. What is for sure is there is nothing wrong with the people I have seen. All great people at heart. But life seems sometimes to offer few routes to follow, I wonder if there is less rate where people live closer to sea? Or where there is less immediate mediaction? forgive me for simple thinking.

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