The Mormon Church is not Responsible for a Nationwide Increase in Teen Suicides

The New York Times published a somewhat absurdly negative obituary for Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon church, focusing mainly on his opposition to same-sex marriage and female ordination.

It seems odd to fault a man for not altering his beliefs in his 80s in response to an unusually rapid change in social norms. Some readers defended the obituary, however, by saying that the Mormon church’s anti-gay stances were directly tied to Utah’s rising teen suicide rate, a belief that appears to be fairly widespread.

Every teen suicide is its own tragic story, but it seems wrong to blame the Mormon church for rising teen suicides across Utah, given that almost every state has seen increased teen suicides over the last 17 years:


Utah’s increase is unusually large, but it appears to be characteristic of nearby Rocky Mountain states; for example, Colorado has a far smaller Mormon population but a nearly identical trajectory for teen suicides:utahcolorado


In general, high altitude states and states with substantial rural white and American Indian populations appear to have the highest teen suicide rates:


Which corresponds to the high and rising rates in those same states for adults rather than teens:



At a county level,  adults living at higher altitudes are at higher risk of suicide, which may partly explain why Utah has such high rates (the state’s motto is now “Life, Elevated”):


And adult non-Hispanic whites and American Indians have seen large increases across states in recent years:


LGBT youth are also at higher risk for suicide, but whatever is driving the increase in suicides for both teens and adults is likely unrelated to the specifics of the Mormon church’s level of acceptance or disapproval.

6 thoughts on “The Mormon Church is not Responsible for a Nationwide Increase in Teen Suicides

    1. Yeah, it seems to have a protective effect against obesity, too. When I was vacationing in Utah with my family two years ago, I noticed my kids were extremely wired at night even after being active and taking hikes during the day. I could see that burning some calories!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m not sure people are blaming the church for the *increase* in suicide rates. That would be strange, given that acceptance of LGBT in Utah has become unabmiguously better in the last 20 years.

    Still, Utah does appear to have high levels. Hard to say what role religion plays in this.


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