Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mental Illness and the Church

About a year ago, I read about George Albert Smith's battle with mental illness.  I mentioned this in an earlier post.  Bedridden for nearly three years, George Albert Smith struggled with bouts of depression coupled with serious physical maladies. The Church made no mention of this in its curriculum this last year in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. In fact, the Church doesn't have much dialogue when it comes to mental illness.

This past Saturday, however, things started to change. Elder Holland got up to give his talk this conference. He usually tackles difficult issues. What came next, however, was something that I hadn't expected:

"Let me leave the extraordinary illnesses I have mentioned to concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, 'depression.' When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. The Book of Mormon says Ammon and his brethren were depressed at a very difficult time, and so can the rest of us be. But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!"

Elder Holland continued to discuss the problem of mental illness. I have heard so many times within the Church that "wickedness never was happiness." Many members, however, despite years of trying to "square their shoulders," cannot and will not overcome MDD. They aren't wicked. They are doing their home and visiting teaching, reading their scriptures, attending the temple, serving in their callings, and praying with all their might. But no matter what they try to do, the depression won't go away. Often in Church culture members judge others for their depression. Maybe if these members prayed harder or tried to attend the temple more often, then their depression would go away. But it doesn't. It never will by simply doing the religious activities that bring peace to other people's bad hair days. 

I have struggled with these issues for years. These issues don't go away with more prayer. They don't go away with more fasting. Going to the temple more often will also not relieve the pains of depression. . I find comfort in the teachings of the Book of Mormon.
"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." 

 Like most issues in our mortal sojourn, however, I may struggle with this for the remainder of my mortal life despite having the power of the atonement available.  But Elder Holland's talk gives me hope that we can have a more positive dialogue about mental illness in the Church. There shouldn't be any shame. We have to face these issues together. I want others to know that it's okay to admit that you struggle. It's okay to admit that life is difficult.

As Mormons, we have a community of believers. The point of having a community is to have that support and power that only community can bring. Let us reach out to help others. Let us not be afraid to reveal our weaknesses and struggles in this life. Only when we are open and honest can the healing begin. I have seen that in my life. While I still struggle on some days more than others, I know that there are people who do understand and will not judge. And most of all, we have a Savior who never judges, one who understands our situation perfectly.

And that's the best news of all.

1 comment:

Jessie Riddle said...

I've been trying to put basically what you just said into words for two days for an article for Insight. I'm so glad you said it. :) I think in the end, they key points that a) depression is real, and may be a life long struggle and b) you're ok are really what all of us need to hear (and talk about).
thank you :)