New study finds the happiest, saddest places in U.S.

I grew up convinced that I would be happy if only I could move to California or New York. In fact, that notion was still lurking in my head when I ran across a study that caused me to rethink this belief.

Research by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control found a surprisingly strong correlation between geography and mental distress.

The study, which will appear in the June issue of TheAmerican Journal of Preventative Medicine, found that people living in the upper Midwest suffer the fewest episodes of frequent mental distress, while those in the Appalachian region are more than twice as likely to suffer such episodes.

Residents of Kentucky and West Virginia in particular suffer greater distress than most Americans, while those in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska appear to live in greater tranquility.

And my dream locations? Californians living on the coast are about average, those inland above average. New Yorkers also experience greater than average mental distress.The study incorporated 2.4 million telephone-survey responses gathered over 13 years to the question, "How many days in the past 30 have you experienced mental distress?" An answer of 14 or more days was considered frequent mental distress. The respondents were allowed to decide what mental distress meant to them.

I spoke with one of the study's authors, Matthew M. Zack, M.D., MPH. He told me that this study is only the first step in a process that he hopes will culminate in better health services for those in mental distress. Of course, reading these results we can't help but wonder why it is people in Hawaii experience less mental distress than those in Mississippi?

Zack speculated that the factors could be personal, such as addiction, marital status, or education, or societal such as the safety net available to people living in different areas or the tightness of the community. Since the study covered 13 years, changes over time is also a possible causal factor.

Zack said that the next step will be looking for correlations between other variables and these findings, searching for cause and effect relationships.
The CDC has a great deal of data already available on a larger, statewide scale, but will look to the U.S. Census for more granular, county-level information to include in the research. This additional research will take some time, but Zack hopes that it will result in better focused health care.

So, if you're feeling chronically distressed, should you pack up and move to Fargo? That would be leaping to a conclusion that has not yet been substantiated. On the other hand, nothing in the study would suggest you shouldn't move there. I'd think twice, however, given these finding, about moving to Morgantown.

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