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msnbc.com
updated 12/4/2007 3:06:45 PM ET 2007-12-04T20:06:45

Cheer up, Utah. That state, with West Virginia and Kentucky close behind, were just named the saddest in the country in a new report by Mental Health America.

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The study ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on rates of depression and suicide. Researchers found that states with easier access to mental health resources had lower suicide rates.

"Basically, the story that emerged is that access to care makes a difference," says David Shern, the president and CEO of Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Va., that works to raise awareness about mental illnesses. By expanding mental health care resources, he says, states can improve their population's depression levels.

Rounding out the top 10 saddest states were Rhode Island, Nevada, Oklahoma, Idaho, Missouri, Ohio and Wyoming.

On the bright side, South Dakota is home to some of America’s happiest people, followed by Hawaii, New Jersey, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Louisiana, Illinois, North Dakota and Texas.

What is it about living in Utah that’s so depressing — and what’s so great about South Dakota?

The states found to have the highest suicide rates had fewer resources for mental health care, and barriers such as cost made it harder for people in those states to access what resources were available.

Happier states such as South Dakota had more psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers per capita. In the least depressed states, more people had health insurance and received mental health care treatment.

Researchers also found that the more highly educated a state’s population is, the lower its rate of depression.

In Utah, 14 percent of adults and adolescents reported experiencing severe psychological distress, and 10 percent said they’d had a major depressive episode in the past year. Bad mental health days come three times a month for those living in Utah.

While in South Dakota, about 7 percent of adults and adolescents report having a major depressive episode in the past year, and 11 percent of adults experienced serious psychological stress. On average, South Dakotans have 2.4 bad mental health days every month.

By ranking the states, the researchers involved hope to appeal to American's sense of community within their own state. Psychologists hope that the study will highlight the need for depression treatment in all 50 states, because even the happier ones still need improvement.

“Just because one state is better than another doesn’t mean they should get a gold star," says Reef Karim, a psychiatrist at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wasn’t directly involved with the study. "Every state in the union needs improvement.”

"For many people, it's a matter of life and death," Shern says.

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