The Perfect Problem: an Alpine woman's story

By Kim Johnson

Published 05/06 2013 03:59PM

Updated 05/09 2013 02:17PM

ALPINE, Utah (ABC 4 News) - It's a common condition in Utah and in some cases, the state's religious culture could be at fault.

ABC4 is taking a deeper look into depression and how for many Utah women relieving the pressure to be perfect could make all the difference.

Melanie Parry, 27, has experienced depression. “I started getting depressed when I was about 15,” she said from her Alpine home.

Parry is among many. Right now up to 14 percent of Utahns suffer from depression that's almost double the national average.

According to Dr. Kris Doty, an associate professor at Utah Valley University, perfection may be the problem along with how some Utah women interpret their faith.

"The scripture be therefore perfect,” said Dr. Doty. “People have taken to an unhealthy extreme.”

In a recent research sample of 20 female members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suffering from depression, Doty found that every single one battled toxic perfectionism.

"Toxic meaning it then changed how they viewed themselves,” she said. “It changed how they interacted with people, and it changed how they approached their spirituality.”

For Parry, it led to the depths of despair. “It’s not healthy,” she said. Parry said she spiraled after her lack of perfection stopped her from getting what she wanted the most.

“I didn't get the part in the play because I was too short, or I couldn't date that boy because I wasn't blonde, or you know, things like that,” she said.

In her state of mind, seeking spiritual things made her feel worse.

“There's a lot of canonized phrase-ology, if you will, of 'be ye therefore perfect' and things like that. And then there's the... just the cultural you know... good mom's do blank, good Mormons do blank, good people are like blank,” she said.

High standards Parry said she couldn't meet. But who creates those standards?

"The influential factor is the culture, not the doctrine and we just got to make that very clear because I think people like to take shots at the LDS church as if they're the ones applying all this pressure, it isn't,” said Dr. Doty.

In fact, according to Doty's sample it's women. “The feeling like everyone was watching them and passing judgment on them,” she said. That's not unique to members of the church. Dr. Doty said for all women suffering from depression, comparison is a killer.

"It becomes almost a kind of dual personality in that she's got this mask she can wear for the community and for the church and for other people, but inside, when the doors are closed and the blinds are pulled, she's falling apart at the seams,” said Dr. Doty.

But there's a clear way stitch things back up. "We have to get to the point where we don't care what other people say or other people think,” said Doty.

Parry got to that point with the help of anti-depressants. Now off her meds, she's learning to face her demons on her own.

“But, I have to be careful, I have to be on my guard because if I let those thoughts start circling again, and they will you know, that's mortality, they'll come back,” she said. “If I can beat them at the beginning, then I never have to go down that dark road again.”

Parry will complete a bachelor's degree in photography and art history at UVU this December.

If you're feeling that depressed doctors often recommend anti-depressants. Doty says go ahead and use them to get back on track, but make the transition to therapy once you're functioning as normal.

Dr. Doty’s next study will examine the impact of perfectionism among LDS women and non-LDS women. Click here if you would like to participate.

Click here to see all our Perfect Problem stories.

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