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Bad case of blues found in bay area

Sad, but true: A magazine survey ranks Tampa and St. Petersburg among the most depressed cities.

By SHERRI DAY
Published March 24, 2005


TAMPA - Maybe it's the Bucs slump. Or maybe hurricanes have knocked the wind out of our sails. But something's got the Tampa Bay Area down.

Break out the Zoloft. Apparently, that's what your friends and neighbors do, at least those who aren't perched atop the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

In the April issue of Men's Health magazine, St. Petersburg and Tampa rank among the Top 5 most depressed cities in America. The worst of 101? Philadelphia, followed by Detroit and St. Petersburg. Tampa, which trails St. Louis, ranks fifth.

There is a message here.

"Looks like there's probably something here that needs to be addressed," said Matt Marion, Men's Health features editor. "Hopefully, the cities will be willing to do that."

For inspiration, Tampa and St. Petersburg could look to the city that fared best in the magazine's ranking.

And what shining metropolis might that be?

Laredo, Texas.

El Paso, Texas, Jersey City, N.J., and Corpus Christi, Texas, were close behind.

"We're all very pleased," said Dr. Jose G. Garcia, a medical psychiatrist in Laredo. "We have been very successful promoting awareness of mental health. Before, people didn't seek mental health services at all. Now it seems not only acceptable, but it is desirable."

Texa s has state-funded programs to treat mental illness and a low patient-to-doctor ratio, Men's Health said.

The magazine compiled the list by comparing data on antidepressant sales, suicide rates and the number of days residents reported being depressed.

Sadly, the magazine would not reveal its raw data. But Marion did offer suggestions as to the Bay area's psychological plight.

"One possibility is that you have a lot of people that may be coming to the area, moving away from situations that weren't happy," Marion said. "You have people trying to find a geographic cure."

Men's Health ranks cities each month in its MetroGrades column, tackling topics such as alcohol consumption and toxic wastewater.

Tampa previously ranked 72nd in a MetroGrades survey of "101 Best and Worst Cities for Men" and also got an F for being environmentally "toxic." Both Tampa and St. Petersburg fared poorly in surveys of stress and stupidity.

Maybe that caused the depression.

Granted, bay area pharmacies filled nearly 1.3-million prescriptions for antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft last year, according to a drug sales data firm. And twice as many people die of suicide than homicide in Florida, the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition notes.

But even Oscar Rincones, a supervisor at the Pinellas County suicide help line 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares, finds the bay area rankings hard to believe.

"I heard that and thought that was really odd after living in Seattle," Rincones said.

Likewise for Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Bruce Doras, whose agency patrols the Sunshine Skyway Bridge 24 hours a day, hoping to deter jumpers.

(Philadelphia, he understood. "That makes sense," he said. "I have relatives from Philadelphia.")

Some health care experts cautioned against accepting the magazine's findings.

Men's Health said it used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to which CDC spokeswoman Karen Hunter replied, "We don't have any type of information that would support an article that has rankings like that."

Officials in Philadelphia were naturally skeptical. They've put their own researchers on the case.

"We don't know what to think of it actually," said Paula Butler, spokeswoman for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.

"This came out even before we lost the Super Bowl," she said. "That was the last thing that depressed us as a city."

Sherri Day can be reached at 813-226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 24, 2005, 01:51:37]


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