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Steve Mullen: Rays of sunshine in the Gloom Belt

 

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Steve Mullen

 

Like many folks in Columbus, I was sidelined for a few days with The Crud last week. In between throbbing sinus headaches and feverish coma-naps, I tried my best to stay cheery, as much as someone with a really bad cold is able to do. 

 

I did a lot of reading. So imagine how my spirits soared when I came across an article on Time''s Web site titled: "The Gloom Belt: Kentucky Is the Saddest State." 

 

It seems a team of scientists has been cataloging the nation''s bad-hair days. As it turns out, Kentucky is gloomy, but so is Mississippi. In fact, you could call Mississippi the buckle of the "Gloom Belt," which runs from West Virginia down to Mississippi, and up and over to Oklahoma.  

 

The scientists, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, interviewed more than 2.4 million people for the study. "Respondents were asked to think about their general mental state, including ''stress, depression and problems with emotion,'' and then asked how many days in the past month their mental health was generally not good," the article says. 

 

Locally, things were generally not good. As bad-hair days go, we''re the Bride of Frankenstein. Looking at the map included with the scientists'' study, almost the entire northern half of Mississippi, including Lowndes, is the saddest color.  

 

Why all the long faces? Yes, it clouds up and rains, but the sun still manages to shine. Spring brings wisteria blooms. Kids still get summers off, at least for now. Fall brings cooler weather, and with it, SEC football. Winter brings a dusting of snow every now and then. 

 

In Lowndes County, employment is down, but it''s worse elsewhere. We can buy cold beer on a Sunday, if we want to. Commute times are low. Supplies of fried okra remain high. 

 

All in all, it seems pretty good. 

 

 

 

Some happy islands 

 

I examined the map more closely, and noticed something interesting. Amid the sea of sadness in our area, a few counties surface like happy little islands: Lafayette, Union, Oktibbeha and Clay. 

 

What do these people have to be so happy about? 

 

Lafayette is easy. The Rebels are ranked eighth in the preseason. I love Oxford to death, and proudly called it home for several years, but it has become the Disneyland of Mississippi, to the point that no one is really sure if it is still Mississippi. It''s something else. The actual Mississippi is the low-rent place that exists beyond its borders. Like Anaheim is to Disneyland. 

 

Oktibbeha is pretty easy too. It''s not Disneyland, but it''s working towards being Six Flags. Mississippi State''s new coach has promise, and a great surname. Reasons for smiles. 

 

Union seems more vexing. But then you consider New Albany, which has a sportsplex that is visible from the highway. In Columbus'' own deliberations over a proposed sportsplex, visibility from the highway is often brought up as a key ingredient of success -- and for many, a deal breaker if not part of the equation. Seems there is nothing like vast acres of graded fields within eyeshot of four lanes of asphalt to buoy the spirits. This is something we must indeed consider locally. That''s not my opinion; it''s science. 

 

Clay is the most troubling of the four. It has vast fields, but they''re occupied by cows, not soccer players. The Sara Lee plant closed. That said, there are a few mitigating factors. West Point has Anthony''s, which serves up a mean catfish with crawfish sauce. There''s the Mossy Oak superstore. On the culture front, the arts are springing to life, evidenced by that big, silver horse statue along Highway 45. 

 

And as an extra bonus, they don''t have to hang around us Lowndes County saddoes all the time. 

 

 

 

Depression is serious 

 

Kidding aside, depression is a serious matter, and should be treated as such. If you suspect you''re depressed, that''s probably evidence enough that you need to honestly, seriously, get yourself checked out. 

 

The recession is presenting most everyone with added stress: Less credit and spending money; shrinking retirement nest eggs; the loss of a job, or the fear that it''s coming; less traffic for many business owners, large and small. 

 

Still, the sky outside is blue. The trees are green. We may have The Crud, but it will get better. Our collective mood, like the economy, will too.  

 

Until then, pass the okra.

 

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.

 

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