Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wyomingites happy, yet vaguely troubled

Wyoming received mixed messages today from national organizations. We all know how distressing mixed messages can be. Makes you want to go out and write a really sad poem.

First, the good news. Wyoming is the third-happiest state, trailing only our brethren and sistren in neighboring Utah, and the sun-drenched residents of Hawaii. This comes from a survey of Americans' well-being, conducted by Gallup in partnership with Healthways and America's Health Insurance Plans.

The bottom three were Mississippi, Kentucky and, at dead last, West Virginia.

The beach-goers and mountaineers of the West obviously are happier than the mountaineers of West Virginia. In fact, the saddest states are in the South. Coincidence? Without all that sorrow, how would they breed such excellent and sorrow-drenched writers as William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor (drenched in sorrow yet darkly humorous)?

According to an AP story:

Jim Harter, a researcher at Gallup, said he was reluctant to explain regional differences without more study, but he suspected that some of the variations are explained by income. For example, when people were asked to examine their status in life now and five years from now, wealthier people tended to score higher.

The survey attempts to measure people's well-being. It examines their eating and exercise habits, work environment and access to basic necessities, just to name some of the criteria.

The massive survey involved more than 350,000 interviews. Examples of the questions include: Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your job or the work you do? Did you eat healthy all day yesterday? Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live? See the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index at

So, Wyomingites are happy. We see amazing joyfulness every day. Although we may be only imagining it.

On Wyoming Public Radio this afternoon, there was a piece about Wyoming’s low mental health grades. The National Alliance on Mental Illness gave Wyoming a grade of "D" in 2006 and an "F" this year. The state lost points for its shortage of psychiatrists or affordable housing for people with mental health issues.

Both of these problems are real. Moreover, there’s not a single practicing child psychiatrist in the entire state. In case you’re too giddy to take in such a woeful statistic, I’ll spell it out in numbers – Wyoming has exactly 0.0 child psychiatrists for its 520,000 people, maybe 200,000 of them under 18. There are psychiatrists trained to treat adults, and there are psychologists and therapists and counselors. Physicians in small- to medium-sized towns in the state see young people with mental health issues and prescribe medication. But they are not trained in child psychiatry.

So we have a problem. Roger McDaniel sees it as a byproduct of Wyoming’s rural nature. He’s probably right. McDaniel oversees mental health for the state Department of Health. He told the WPR reporter: "To the extent that you try to grade Wyoming against more urban states, we're always going to fare poorly."He added that Wyoming has doubled its funding for mental health, and expanded its regional care.

But here in the Great Wide Open, many mentally ill people go untreated. That’s a sad state of affairs.

But I’m too damn happy to notice.

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