Religious States, Unhappy States

Well, it’s not quite that simple, but Laura Gottesdiener’s report connects religion, State and anti-depressants:

A study released yesterday confirmed that Mississippi remains the most religious state in the Union, followed by a handful of its southern belt brothers: Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, as well as the Mormon stronghold of Utah. The Gallup poll showed that 58 percent of all Mississippians identify as “very religious.” The least religious states in the U.S. are the former stomping grounds of the very,very religious Puritans: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.

But life in these highly faithful states doesn’t seem to be all its cracked up to be. The most religious states in the U.S. share another trait: the highest use of anti-depressants.

Utah has long been the nation’s capital of happy pill popping, with its citizens twice as likely to be on anti-depressants than the general U.S. population. But the rest of the observant states aren’t far behind. Of the top-ten most religious states, nine have higher than average use of anti-depressants.

Some states have startlingly medicated populations.

In Utah, Louisiana and Arkansas–the 2nd, 4th and 5th most religious states in the Union– nearly 20 percent of the population is on some form of anti-depressants, according to a 2006 study by one of the largest prescription companies.

The rest of the highly religious states aren’t far behind. Mississippi (most religious), Alabama (third most religious), South Carolina (6th), Tennessee (7th), North Carolina (8th) and Oklahoma (10th) have above average rates of anti-depressant use, with 15 to 17 percent of the citizens medicated. Of the top-ten most religious states, only one–Georgia–isn’t disproportionately addicted to anti-depressants. Nationally, the prescription rate was about 14 percent.

No irony that the author of this article’s last name means “servant of God”?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://sarahoverthemoon.com Sarah Moon

    Highest use of anti-depressants doesn’t necessarily mean the unhappiest. Anti-depressants help make depression go away. So maybe these states are actually the happiest because they are taking steps to fix the depression they already have. I’m actually pleasantly surprised that more religious areas are more likely to be using anti-depressants since churches often discourage their use.

  • Greg C

    Hegel identifies one form of religious consciousness (the form most would articulate as the clearest, most cliche form of religious consciousness) as “Unhappy Consciousness”.

  • Bill Bradford

    I agree with Sarah. “addicted to anti-depressants” is a loaded term and seems to indicate that anyone who is clinically depressed is an addict – which is patently false. Without further information we cannot tell if this is indeed indicative of a problem or simply proof that those who are religious recognize and deal with clinical depression better.

  • Richard

    Gotta find some way of coping with the cognitive dissonance of serving Jesus while marginalizing others.

  • John I.

    “addicted to anti-depressants” – a phrase that is both inaccurate and offensive.

  • John I.

    The supposed inference that the article implies that we should draw from the statistics (religion is the cause of depression; non-religious people are happier), ignores Jesus command to his followers and the way of life that they are to pursue. A christian does not pursue happiness as the highest goal, and is called to be in and deal with difficult situations, and to face reality and not escape it via idols of this world. This type of life necessarily puts christians into lives that can be depressing even as they are joyful.

    One must further realize that clinically recognized depression, which results in a prescription, is not the same as sadness but is actually a disorder. In such circumstances anti-depressives are a means of restoring biological balance in the brain so that the patient can face reality, rather than live under the cloud of an overly negative (and hence unrealistic) reality that is created at least in part by biological factors. Clinical depression hinders people from living their lives and interacting with others.

    One could just as easily infer from the so-called research of the writer that Christians in these states want to remain engaged with life, and capable of living out the Jesus life, and so obtain the necessary medication that enables them to do so even in the face of difficult circumstances. I’m not saying that my hypothesis is true, just that my hypothesis is just as probable as the one put forward by the writer.

    I also submit that posting this article here, while potentially provocative, also perpetuates stereotypes of the mentally ill – that they are “addicted” rather than “enabled”, that they never stop taking the medication, and that they are taking “drugs” rather than “medication”. “Drug” can refer to harmful or helpful substances but it has negative connotations that “medication” does not. Heroin would not be called a “medicine”, and what one gets in a doctor’s office is a prescription for “medication”.


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