The Perfect Problem: Cultural Pressures

By Kim Fischer

Published 05/06 2013 02:23PM

Updated 05/10 2013 08:39AM

Depression is common place across the state, and some say perfectionism may be to blame. For one Utah woman, it even changed the way she viewed her faith.

For years, Lizza Nelson waged war against a dark and debilitating condition.

“It was just constant suffering. Like, constant anguish,” she said.

Like many Utah women, Nelson was depressed. In fact, the beehive state has the highest rate of depression in the country, and women suffer from it at least two times more than men.

“It’s like being paralyzed but, oh it’s awful,” Nelson said.

Experts say, genetics, a chemical imbalance in the brain, or even bad weather can cause depression. So can trauma, sudden change, and societal pressures. In nelson's case, it was the pressure she felt to be perfect.

“I remember being very competitive in school like I had to get straight A's and I had to be the best at everything I did,” Nelson said.

She's not alone. Doctor Kris Doty, associate professor at Utah Valley University said many Utah women have a problem with perfection, and for some, the despair started on Sundays.

"I used to be a crisis worker in an emergency room in a pretty busy hospital and on Sundays we would see LDS women come in after church in acute anxiety or depressed states," Doty said.

That spawned a study. In a research sample of depressed women who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Doty found that 20 out of 20 were perfectionists, even when it came to their faith.

“I think it gets really sticky when you think I have to be spiritually the best,” Doty said.

But Nelson still tried, sending her into a spiral.

“If you put a stigma on spirituality equals happiness, righteousness equals cheer, then if you're struggling with it then of course your mind is like well I guess I’m wicked. I guess that I’m doing it all wrong. I guess I’m not measuring up, I’m not righteous,” she said.

A conclusion she came to after sensing judgment from others.

”I think there is a lot of competition with each other for whatever reason,” Nelson said.

Doty agreed. She said many Utah women are doing a song and dance, putting on a show, all to showcase a perfect family dynamic.

“I don't see women who fit that, but I see women who are trying to fit that, and it just, it doesn't need to be," Doty said

She also said it's not synonymous with spiritual teachings.

"It is not the doctrine, I’ve looked at general conference addresses in recent years and there's no one lashing these women on the backs, they're just... I'm not even sure why it self perpetuates but it does," Doty said.

She said it needs to stop.

"We just have to get to the point where we can create an atmosphere where it's ok to fall down and we just get up and we dust ourselves off have a little laugh and move forward," she said.

That's a problem for perfectionists, but a problem Nelson has vowed to solve. She drove out her depression a year ago and now that her load has been lifted, she's all smiles.

It's important to note, we reached out to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for comment. They respectfully declined to participate in time for our series to air.

If you would like to take part in one of Dr. Doty’s Perfectionism studies, click here

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