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Depression Study by UVU Professors Yields Insights on Cultural Impacts

14 October 2010 2 Comments

October 14, 2010
For Immediate Release

For more information: Jack Jensen (801) 863-8375
University Marketing & Communications: Mike Rigert (801) 863-6807
Written by: Karissa Neely (801) 863-6351

Most students want to excel in college, and those at Utah Valley University are no exception. But two UVU professors want to make sure the area’s culture of perfectionism doesn’t drag students down.

Jack Jensen, director of Mental Health Services at UVU, and Cameron John, an associate professor with the University’s Behavioral Sciences Department, are dedicated to helping UVU students overcome depression. Jensen and John conducted a research study in an attempt to identify contributing factors to depression.

They were spurred to study depression and its effects in the UVU community by a 2007 Mental Health America study, which indicated that the state of Utah was No. 1 in depression sufferers among ranked states. Utah also did not fare well on the numbers of suicides per capita.

“Hypotheses generated by MHA did not seem to fully explain the reasons of the high rates of depression for individuals in the state of Utah,” John said.

A side-by-side comparison of Utah and Texas, which ranked very low in the number of depression cases, showed that Utah does better in nearly every other area compared to Texas. Utah has higher education and wage levels, and more availability of mental health professionals and insurance coverage than Texas, so Jensen and John questioned Utah’s ranking.

Their 2009-2010 UVU study explored possible contributors to depression for students at UVU. A questionnaire was created and distributed to a random sample of students, which resulted in 1,000 usable questionnaires. They found that Utah Valley students have depression rates comparable to those found nationally. But there were some unique aspects.

“The results of the research suggest that there is a culture of perfectionism that is related to depression found at UVU,” John said. “Aspects of perfectionism found included internally imposed standards, externally imposed standards and a high need for organization and competency. In addition, a person’s perception of their spirituality or religious beliefs and experiences also played a role.”

A total of 89 percent of the respondents indicate that they consider themselves to be a spiritual person and nearly 79 percent participate in organized religion. It was found that those with positive perceptions of religion or spirituality, and a positive perception of self within the religion, have a protective factor against depression. Negative perceptions of religion or spirituality, and negative self-evaluations relative to the religion, are a risk factor for depression.

The popular notion that more women suffer with depression compared to their male counterparts did not show up in their research. Men and women experienced a similar rate of depression, though there was a significant difference in the number of men and women formally diagnosed with depression.

John cautioned that there are numerous contributing factors that lead people to experience symptoms of depression, and this study is an attempt to explore just some of those contributors.

Jensen and John presented their findings at UVU’s Ethics conference in September, and they will present the findings at the Utah College/University Counseling Center Conference in Park City Oct.  29, and at the Mental Health Institute in Salt Lake City Nov. 20.

“We hope to present at the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association meeting in April 2011 and publish next spring as well,” said John.

The results of the year-long study have encouraged UVU’s health services to improve efforts to reach students who are struggling with mental health issues.

“The findings are important as therapists work with individuals coming into the center for counseling,” Jensen said of the study. “The need to take into consideration the unique experience of students may be important, and efforts are underway in Student Health Services to consider these issues.”

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2 Comments »

  • Barbie said:

    “It was found that those with positive perceptions of religion or spirituality, and a positive perception of self within the religion, have a protective factor against depression. Negative perceptions of religion or spirituality, and negative self-evaluations relative to the religion, are a risk factor for depression.”

    What valuable data this is. The idea that helping people strengthen their spirituality could help boost their “immunity” against depression is pretty awesome.

    Great study!

  • Calm Panic Attack said:

    I always realized that external factors may play a huge role, and possible the only one to do so, to a person’s psychological makeup.

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