Funny juxtaposition not so funny

I’ve been reading recent articles about the states of Utahns’ health and mental health being diametrically opposed. The articles, in Utah Stories and the Salt Lake Tribune, confirmed what I see and got me curious of what I suspect.

What I see:


Solace in the outdoors, of which Utah has bucketfuls.

Utahns are super healthy. Residents consistently rank in the country’s top six by scoring low in smoking, diabetes, and obesity measurements. Not coincidentally, access to the wilderness is top-ranked, too.

But a National Survey on Drug Use and Health found Utahns suffer more than any other state from poor mental health. Nearly one in four adult Utahns experience some sort of mental illness, said the study. The suicide rate is so high (the nation’s highest), legislators and schools are scrambling to address it, as discussed in the Utah Stories feature.

Why so down?

What I suspect:

Being an outsider, my first thought was that the state’s specific social mores (ie, the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) make it hard to relax, hard to feel free, and hard to admit hard times and hard to reach out for help.

I’m not saying folks of faith aren’t happy. That’d be ridiculous.

But cultural parameters here have noticeable impact for better and for worse. Gays and feminists are less supported here than anywhere I’ve lived. Same with drinkers and smokers.

The articles suggested being Up gets folks Down; altitude has something to do with the troubling mental health statistics. I asked my doctor at an Intermountain clinic about it. He smirked and said he doubted there was any correlation. There is far more validity, he said, in studies showing that folks closer to the equator have less mental

Wasatch Beers' response to the recent court and political actions against same-sex marriage.

Wasatch Beers’ response to the recent court and political actions against same-sex marriage.

health issues, a phenomenon likely linked to sunlight and sun exposure, not altitude.

I asked him about cultural restrictions and social pressures here. “I’ve lived in Georgia, California, and Indiana. No place is more restrictive than here,” he said.

And then there is the impact of parenting; lots of Utahns have lots of children. That reality brought to mind a new book on today’s parenting: All Joy and No Fun.

It’ll be interesting to see how folks here work towards a remedy, and whether they’ll skirt around the problem or address it more profoundly by examining its deeper sources.



Hiking Perspectives a la dogs

Do you look down or around?

From my observation, most human hiking companions do one or another. By habit, some cast their eyes on the ground, watching for roots, stones, and critters. Others have their heads in the clouds, or at least the ridges and trees.

Just recently, I’ve come to realize these distinctions go for dogs, too.

b  kBelle enjoys the Long View. Sure, she’s part Bassett Hound and can’t help putting her nose to the ground to a certain extent. But with the move to Utah, where even Short Ones can see for miles, she is constantly scanning ridges.

Belle seeks any elevated surface on which to strike the “Land, Ho!” pose. One minute, she’s on a rock outcropping. The next minute, she’s on a fallen log (Hey, that extra 10 inches of height makes a big difference!).

Kip enjoys the Short View. The Australian Shepherd is most concerned with what is on the ground in her immediate area. She’s particularly obsessed with bones. Here in the Oquirrh Mountain foothills, there are plenty of deer bones in various stages of decay. Aside from these treasures, Kip is intent k bon the herd, not the horizon. She keeps track of Belle and her humans. If she looks farther to spot deer or turkeys, it’s only because their movement has caught her eye: something more to herd.

The dogs’ contrasting behaviors has made me appreciate both perspectives and has made me more aware of my own tendencies. I often follow their sight lines and discover more than I would on my own.

Read more about Belle’s nose.

Read more about Kip’s development as a Ride Along Dog.

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