Friday, May 1, 2009

Mood Map of the United States

Via the Southern Political Report, this map, based on data from a telephone survey performed by the Centers for Disease Control, shows percentages of residents who reported more than 14 days of emotional discomfort, including "stress, depression and problems with emotion" over the prior month.

Appalachia has problems. Kentucky is the saddest state, with 14.4% reporting extended periods of mental discomfort, and a depression belt stretches right through the entire Upland South region from West Virginia to Oklahoma. This corresponds to a region with some of the highest rates of neuroticism, as well as some of the lowest rates of overall well-being.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most content states are Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and - happiest of all, for utterly inexplicable reasons - Hawaii. All of those states had fewer than 8% report sustained mental distress.

What strikes me about this map is that urban and suburban counties generally seem to rate consistently toward the middle of the mood spectrum throughout different regions of the country (albeit with a few exceptions, like Los Angeles, Detroit and Tampa). But rural areas vary dramatically - the happiest counties are rural areas of the Upper Midwest, and the saddest counties are, again, rural areas of the Upland South. So what accounts for the discrepancy? Well, broadly speaking, National Geographic says this:
Previous studies have linked regional income and education levels to well-being. And in general, people with higher incomes and college degrees report fewer instances of prolonged depression or stress, said study author Matthew Zack, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC.

But that's probably not the whole story, he added.

For example, communities with low [frequent mental distress] levels may have above-average support structures for residents—subsidized health clinics, for example, or job-retraining programs.

"There may be different influences in different communities," Zack said. "Once we find out what the most important ones are, we may be able to develop programs to reduce the levels of mental distress."
So are such support structures much more prevalent in places like the rural Midwest than in Appalachia? And if so, why? And what accounts for some of the intra-regional differences, like the fact that people in the Appalachian counties of Tennessee and North Carolina seem to be happier than their counterparts in Kentucky and Virginia? And why is it that Oklahoma is not just very sad, but appears to taint neighboring regions in other states? Lots of intriguing questions here.

This study will be published in the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


Richard said...

You're probably being facetious, since if I lived in Hawaii, I'd be pretty damn happy too.

As for the upper-midwest vs. south, I would hypothesize that people who come from communal, low honor-value, low-violence, farming communities are happier while people who come from tribal, high honor-value, high-violence, herding communities are more depressed.

bruce said...

People in Minnesota won't admit they are not happy. People in the south will be pretty up front about it. I've lived in both MN and TN. Interesting, but I don't know how you can do a rational study of this.

Anonymous said...

Matching this map with a map of the most obese states in America, they are significantly similar. Since Depression is linked to diet and exercise, a free health clinic wouldn't help as much as a free gym would.

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