Ever since the November policy became news, I’ve been following QUILTBAG+ issues in the LDS church more closely. Over on Rational Faiths, Benjamin Knoll has quite an analysis of teen suicide rates based on CDC data for 2009 and 2014.
Knoll’s is a very long post, and Knoll’s quite careful about what it does and doesn’t mean, but here’s the tl;dr:
- Knoll controlled for other variables including race
- CDC data doesn’t include sexual orientation, thus no inference can be made about queer youth suicide rates per se. (Even if CDC data did include sexual orientation, it would likely be inaccurate given how many families speak about their queer children’s suicide by saying it was an “accident” and never mentioning their child’s orientation.)
- Because the latest available data is for 2014, the influence of the November Policy cannot yet be determined.
Knoll’s Findings About Teen Suicide
I’ll excerpt from Knoll’s own post first, then follow up with some other comments.
First, the proportions of Mormons living in a state had no relationship with youth suicide rates in the state in 2009, as observed earlier with the correlation analysis.
Second, even after statistically controlling for a host of demographic and other relevant variables such as state density, gun ownership, serious mental illness, etc. the proportion of Mormons in a state is associated with higher levels of youth suicide rates in that state in 2014. Further analysis (not shown) shows that, controlling for all these other factors, youth suicide rates increase from 11.1 per 100,000 to 21.9 per 100,000 as the % Mormon moves from its minimum in a state (less than 1%) to its maximum in a state (55% in Utah). These are objectively small numbers, but it means that (again, controlling for other factors) youth suicides are twice as high in states with the highest levels of Mormon residents compared to states with the lowest levels of Mormon residents.
By way of comparison, the effect of gun ownership on youth suicide rates is roughly a factor of four, meaning that youth suicide rates are four times as high in states with the highest levels of gun ownership (62% in Alaska) compared to the states with the lowest levels of gun ownership (5% in Delaware). Again, by way of comparison, this means that the effect of % Mormon in a state on youth suicide rates is about half that of gun ownership. Or in other words, Mormon prevalence in U.S. states doubles youth suicide rates, while gun ownership quadruples them.
Third, even after statistically controlling for a host of demographic and other relevant variables such as state density, gun ownership, serious mental illness, etc. the proportion of Mormons in a state is associated with faster increases in the rate of youth suicides over a five-year period between 2009 and 2014. Further analysis (not shown) shows that the rate of change in youth suicides in a state moves from 17.3% to 118.9% as a state moves from less than 1% Mormon to 55% Mormon. As shown by Parkinson and Barker, suicide rates among Utah youth more than doubled over this five year period. It is also notable that there are no other factors that reliably predict increases in youth suicide rates during that same time period except for % Mormon in a given state.
What’s most compelling to me about Knoll’s work is that the other work I’ve seen has focused only on Utah teen suicide rates, and not on the issue of the larger LDS community including other states with significant Mormon populations, and comparing them to those states with little to no Mormon population.
I also find it really interesting that in 2009, Knoll found no correlation between Mormonism and teen suicide given that others have suggested this spike starts earlier, perhaps correlated with the beginnings of LDS support of Prop 8 in 2008.
Suicide Is The Leading Cause of Death for Kids 10-17 in Utah
“Last year we were over 600. We’re certainly on track for being over 600 this year. So that means every day, on average, we’re going to see at least one to possibly two suicides.”
A new report shows the youth suicide rate in Utah has nearly tripled since 2007. It is now the leading cause of death among 10 to 17-year-olds in Utah.
One issue that’s gotten some press before is “toxic perfectionism,” the cultural issue within Mormon communities that leads to feeling like being less than perfect is failing, as this Deseret News article discusses.
In her findings, Doty identified five major factors that she said led to depression among the study’s participants — genetics, history of abuse, family relationships, feeling judged by others and toxic perfectionism.
Doty said the church’s teachings on striving for perfection led to misinterpretations and contributed to feelings of inadequacy.
“In the (Mormon and Utah) culture, people have just taken it too far,” she said during the 2013 Mental Health Symposium at UVU’s Sorensen Student Center. “They think they can’t make a mistake and so they become hyper-competitive and anxious. If you think you can make no mistake, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
While Dr. Doty’s study is small, focusing on 20 women over a year-long period, it may also be a factor more generally within the Mormon community, including youth.