Unhappy In Utah

Utah Mental Illness Depression CBS/AP

Utah is famous for its pristine natural beauty and clean living lifestyle. But beneath that facade there is a potentially severe mental health problem, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

Utah leads the nation in prescriptions for anti-depressants, according to a recent study. "The fact that we're twice the national average with something like anti-depressants begs some explanation," said Dr. Curt Canning, head of the Psychiatric Association of Utah.

The survey, by a large prescription benefits provider, stunned Canning. He thinks one possible explanation is the state's dominant Mormon culture, which demands much of its people, especially women.

"We have large family sizes. She is supposed to say 'yes' to the PTA job, to the extra church job, to taking food to the neighbors because someone is ill, and smile about it."

Bobbie Coray battles anxiety. She runs Logan, Utah's Chamber of Commerce while balancing family and religious obligations. She had a hard time relaxing. To ease the burden, she's taking the anti-depressant Zoloft.

"The culture, I think, says it's OK. You know, do the best you can, be cheerful and happy and if it doesn't work, then go to professional help."

Utah is known as the "beehive state" because of its residents' proud record of productivity. But some here fear the pressure to achieve may be pushing people too far. And with the nation's ninth highest suicide rate, Utah is even getting the federal government's attention.

The U.S. Surgeon General's special assistant is tracking the problem — made even more urgent by the latest youth suicide statistics, that found in 2000, 66 young people between the ages of 5 and 24 killed themselves in this sparsely populated state.

For many Utah teens, normal tension relievers, like after school sports, aren't working.

"A few of our friends take anti-depressants just because I think we're not good enough, like we don't think we're good enough, then we turn to other things," said high-schooler Lyndsay Anderson.

Other things can include dangerous drugs. The baseball team at Payson High School has a new starting line up because many of its stars were caught using and selling painkillers.

"I wasn't surprised, but I was disappointed when it started unraveling," says Payson principal Kay Smith. "It was much bigger than I thought it was going to be."

Smith admits her kids are stressed but no more, she says, than other high school students. Still, some teens say it's part of life in Utah.

"If they don't think they're quite living up to the standards that everybody has set for them, then I could see how that could lead to some problems," says high school student McCord Larsen.

Utah's leading psychiatrists say there needs to be additional studies to solve this growing mental health mystery.
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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