Mormons and Mental Illness: Introduction

We here at BCC have decided to offer a series on Mormons and mental health. We will post our own perspectives and wish to solicit the experiences and insight of our readers. Please consider submitting a guest post on this topic to ronan at jhu dot edu (anonymity will, of course, be respected). At the end of the series, an LDS mental health professional will be invited to respond.

Mental illness is an awful monster, certainly one of the worst challenges of mortality, and Mormons are not immune. I suspect that the image of the Mormon Prozac Mom has been over-hyped, but Mormons (and probably all people with a strict religious faith) do indeed have a special set of issues to deal with. It is our hope that we can discuss, in a supportive way, the challenges of mental illness from a Latter-day Saint perspective. Perhaps we can aid in the healing of some who suffer. In any case, please note the sensitivity of this topic and respond accordingly.

What are the LDS-specific challenges of mental health?

The Deseret News published an article in 2003 that described recent changes in LDS approaches to mental illness. In particular it highlighted Elder Alexander Morrison’s book, “Valley of Sorrow: A Layman’s Guide to Mental Illness,” which was the first book by a member of the LDS hierarchy to deal with mental illness. Elder Morrison said he wanted to try to “lay to rest a portion of the prejudice, ignorance, misunderstanding and social stigma which continue to dog sufferers and their families.”

Stigma and ignorance are serious problems. In this, Latter-day Saints are certainly not unique, but in a “can-do” church, the notion that with enough faith all things can be overcome may make it difficult for people to seek help. Certainly faith can bring healing, but at the same time we would not expect the sufferer of a physical illness to rely on prayer and fasting alone. “Just as we would not hesitate to consult a physician about medical problems such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes,” said Morrison, “so too we should not hesitate to obtain appropriate professional assistance in dealing with mental illness.”

One of the particular difficulties of depression, for example, is that it seems to cut a person off from exactly the kind of feelings of joy that we associate with the workings of the Holy Ghost and the manifestation of the love of God.

Finding an appropriate professional can be a challenge. LDS Family Services can provide help, but I am under the impression that one has to be referred by the Bishop. This may be wholly appropriate in most circumstances, but I hesitate to recommend an “LDS-is-always-best” attitude. The website of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists provides a listing of private LDS practitioners. Most of them are, of course, in the US, but there are a few listings for professionals in Canada, Europe, and Australasia. This leaves many international Latter-day Saints without LDS mental health support, which is why I think it is important that members realise that mental healing can be found outside the parameters of the Church (although a counselor who shares your world view is undoubtedly a useful option).

Another resource is the Hidden Treasures Foundation which has assembled a number of LDS-themed mental health resources at A new book is also available that includes details of the struggle Harold B. Lee had with depression, how Donny Osmond was treated for panic attacks, and other Mormon experiences with mental illness.

One thing about the new (and much welcomed) openness of the Church to mental illness that I find unfortunate is the lumping-together of all manner of conditions, compulsions and behaviours under one umbrella. The Deseret News article ends by describing a “Cyber Secrets” conference held at BYU that dealt with sexual addiction and pornography. Topics at the “Families Under Fire” conference included eating disorders, marital conflict, depression, grief, at-risk children, internet filtering, homosexuality, adoptive parent challenges, pornography addiction and debt elimination.

These are all issues worthy of discussion, but we have to realise the role that irrational guilt and anxiety play in mental illness. Someone who suffers from depression may find added misery in seeing his or her condition associated at the same time with “pornography addiction” or “homosexuality” (which, by the way, I do not consider to be a mental illness, but please, let’s not focus on this). Excessive “Mormon guilt” can have perilous consequences, and we must be very careful that we don’t make people more miserable than they already are.

These are my preliminary thoughts on Mormons and mental illness. We invite you to participate in a kind and thoughtful discussion both on this post and on posts to come. And if you have an experience that you wish to share, please consider submitting a guest post.


  1. Looks to be promising, Ronan. At the outset, I want to point out another problem within the one you allude to in the end. The problem of defining “mental illness.” I believe the phrase alone is a problematic one because of the elusiveness of its meaning. Mental illness suggests two things immediately 1. That the issue is wrong/unnatural and 2. That the issue – like a physical illness – is something that stands beyond the bounds of the individual consciousness to correct.

    This is why many people object to the term in cases such as “pornography addiction” or “homosexuality”. According to popular belief, pornography addiction violates rule number two – we do think an individual consciousness can correct it. Homosexuality violates rule number one – popular belief suggests that there is nothing wrong/unnatural about it.

    My point is not about the two issues, but the problem with labeling issues. The simple act of labeling issue X as a “mental illness” automatically undermines arguments that suggest that the individual consciousness does indeed have power over it. And it’s a fallacy that we need to avoid if we’re going to have any kind of productive conversation.

  2. Those are good points, Eric. For the record, could you suggest the things that you think are “mental illnesses.”

  3. Eric, I’m not sure what the fallacy is that you’re talking about. Is the fallacy (1) that the label “mental illness” is misapplied to include conditions over which people have control, (2) that the idea that people have no control over a mental illness is wrong, or (3) something else?

    If (1), I completely agree and I think it is a problem.
    If (2), I’m not sure what you’re getting at; I’d like to hear you elaborate.
    If (3), please correct me.

  4. Ronan, no. I don’t know enough on the subject to make any assertions, although I do believe some could be made. I will think about it though.

    Logan. It’s #1. To include a relatively non-polemic example, there are some who will say that a “hot temper” is a type of mental illness. I think the label is unhelpful because, personally, I think there is something we can do about our temper.

  5. Okay — it looks like I was just trying too hard to read into your comment things that weren’t there. We’re in complete agreement, then. Misuse of the term in the way you’re talking about is a disservice both to people with with bad tempers and to those with serious mental illnesses, I imagine.

  6. [I suppose instead of trying to pick a fight I could actually comment on the post. . .]

    This is really interesting, Ronan. I wasn’t aware of all these resources (by the way, the Mental Health Library link doesn’t work) out there. Nor did I know that President Lee struggled with depression.

    One challenge I see in the way the Church is set up has to do with Eric’s point and other issues we’ve been discussing of late. That is, Bishops often don’t have the training or the ethical awareness even to know what they can deal with and what should be referred elsewhere. My wife is a Masters level mental health professional, and this comes up constantly for her. She’s got loads of training — much more than virtually any Bishop. But she still encounters plenty of things that are beyond her training. One of the most important parts of that training is therefore the knowledge of the ethical guidelines that establish who she should refer.

    I’m not sure what sort of training Bishops receive along these lines. (Does anyone else know?) I understand, though, that one aspect of a minister’s training in a seminary is this exact kind of thing. One disadvantage to our lay clergy, I guess. . .

  7. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    I’ve struggled from anxiety/depression disorder and adhd (though I dont know if that would be considered “mental illness”) I used to really struggle with it, but with the help of my family, psychiatrists, and medicine it has been really put under control. I am glad to here that there are some books out there by GAs on the problem. I know it was really hard to get understanding from my old bishop and everyone else because there are some MAJOR misconceptions of the problem. they are usually (in my understanding) problems that are hereditary not “acquired” by a hard time in life, though that can set it off. now that my father is the bishop I’ve had a lot more help and understanding. I think people who struggle with it need to understand that having depression doesnt make them a person who is always “sad”. All the people I know who struggle from depression (cousins mom aunts and friends) are all amazing people when they have the problem under control. I’d like to see some more coverage and stuff on this very tough problem by the GAs. I don’t know if that will happen, but it is wonderful to see someone starting a discussion on this. thankyou.

  8. Logan – having served as a bishop I can tell you that I did not recieve any training to help me discern when to get professional help and when to try to handle things on my own. However, I want to say that earlier in my life I had professional counseling that was a huge help in getting over some self esteem issues that had plagued me for most of my life to that point. I saw a private counselor who was LDS and his understanding of my perspective, I think, was very beneficial. I can’t tell you how much that counseling helped me in so many aspects of my life. I still sometimes have to work things out “manually” but often there seems to be an automatic function in my brain that helps me in situations that prevously posed a problem. I didn’t have hypnosis or any type of drup therapy – the counselor just helped me with a mental process and my life is so much better because of it. I think my wife and family would tell you that their lives are better too.

    One down side to the training is that I might, too often, attribute someone else’s problem to lack of self esteem but on the other hand, I believe that is definitely a serious problem that hinders many people, especially men. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I don’t need to be anonymous in my saying that I had counseling and it worked for me and I would recommend it for anyone.

    I think the issue with Bishops is that they have to be humble in all that they do and if they are, the Lord provides them with wisdom beyond their abilities.

  9. Thanks Ronan (BCC) for doing this. I’m looking forward to future posts.

  10. Perhaps members have such a hard time understanding and coming to terms with mental illnesses because we have such a different understanding of how our bodies relate to our spirits. I think that many members (myself included) believe that our emotions, and personality are largely dictated by our spirits. We have a hard time believing that the chemicals and hormones in our brains can dictate how we feel. I hate the idea that I can feel sad and hurt simply because the hormones in my brain have gone haywire.
    Of the six kids in my family only my brother and I have not had to undergo clinical treatment for manic depression… yet. Thanks for the genes, Dad!

  11. I think Andermom is right. Unfortunately I think the dominate view of spirits in the church is B.H. Robert’s views. But he adopted a rather simplistic Cartesian view where we have a mind and then there is the body. He adds in a spirit body, but there is still that idea that our mind is independent in some sense. Now this is impossible to really reconcile to what we know about the brain. But this “blank slate” mentality is rather common and tends to devalue claims of mental illness and pretty much any strong instincts or behavior tied to our brains.

  12. Your’e right, Andermom. Not only do we believe that who we are is dictated solely by our spirits, but our conception of free agency leads us to believe that we, as spiritual beings, decide for ourselves how we think and feel. The idea that people have thought and feelings that they don’t want and that they can’t control seems to contradict this notion.

    I know that when I’m down, I blame myself. I need an attitude adjustment or I need to take some action to feel better. So when others are depressed my first thought tends to be, “Well, just get over it.” I should say it tended to be. I’m getting better at realizing that it’s not that simple.

  13. It seems like some Mormons tend to take the concept of “free agency” and run with it, constructing their own folk doctrine that has little connection to the Gospel or the scriptures. The primary function of “free agency,” in this context, is to judge one’s fellows, another annoying Mormon habit.

    Here’s what Paul said in Romans 7:19-20:

    (19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

    If you find the KJV phrasing impenetrable, here it is from the Net Bible:

    (19) For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! (20) Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.

    Unfortunately, LDS leaders won’t preach this from the pulpit — apparently thinking it would encourage sinful behavior and self-justification.

  14. It is also contrary to our teachings about the fall, Dave, and our notion of why it was important. It seems to me that the Book of Mormon is explicit on these issues. That’s partially why we need a resurrection – partially to get over the effects of the fall.

  15. Dave, are you suggesting that there are things that we do that we cannot help but do? I don’t believe there’s any ground for that kind of belief. Paul may not like his weaknesses, but he is still responsible for them. I don’t think he’s disclaiming responsibility in that verse.

  16. Logan in #7 said

    “I’m not sure what sort of training Bishops receive along these lines. (Does anyone else know?) I understand, though, that one aspect of a minister’s training in a seminary is this exact kind of thing. One disadvantage to our lay clergy, I guess. . .”

    Actually all seminary students recieve is one course in “Pastoral Care” which is like a basic college level Psychology class. It is not very helpful when it comes to mental health issues. Most pastors that I know feel just as helpless with understanding mental illness as bishops do in the church.

  17. Eric, it’s not about responsibility, it’s about the causal possibility of mortal perfection. Paul (and King Benjamin) teach that pure mortals — excluding Jesus Christ and any other half-deities from the following comment — are not capable of choosing to be perfect in this life. Any specific sin we can probably choose to avoid, and thus we’re responsible for all of them. But we can’t choose to avoid all of them, because we’re fallen sinners by nature. Twisting this doctrine leads some Mormons to believe in the heresy of self-perfection and salvation by merit, rather than the gospel doctrine of perfection via divine sanctifying grace as expressed through the operation of the Holy Spirit and salvation through the acceptance of Christ’s atonement. Free agency (these days officially just “agency,” courtesy of the Correlation Committee) is a concept that needs to be placed in context of other gospel notions. Otherwise, like any other concept, it can become a subject of idolatrous worship that leads us away from Christ.

    Anyone who uses the idea of agency to castigate the mentally ill would do well to ask themselves the stereotypical question: what would Jesus do? (End of sermon.)

  18. I think Gligamesh, the typical proof-text is Mosiah 3 where it talks about Christ taking the sins of children to keep them innocent. It says, “for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” This has traditionally been taken to apply to the mentally retarded and other people not viewed as having full ability. It seems from that point an obvious move to recognize that our responsibility, due to our brain structure, is a matter of degree. Is the person with Tourette’s Syndrome responsible for swearing uncontrollably? Is the person with Schizophrenia responsible when they go manic?

    I do think though we must be careful. I think all these things are matters of degree. Further we simply don’t know, even with our science, what is or isn’t of the brain and the degree to which we are responsible. There is always a risk of just blaming everything on the body so as to excuse our sins. But then that’s always been a risk with Paul’s sermon in Romans as well. Consider how some Evangelicals have misused it.

  19. J. Stapley says:

    Dave, are you suggesting that there are things that we do that we cannot help but do?

    I’ll take a swipe at this a well: Yes. Our free will is constrained by physiology. Some more so than others. Moreover our choices and environment effect our physiology and can therefore further limit our agency.

  20. OK,

    I’m bringing this back on track. I think Eric’s original comment has been taken beyond “mental illness.” There are sins we commit that may indeed become compulsions. Then there are mental health conditions that have no basis in sin. They are diseases. The difference is obvious to me.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    …I also really like clark’s point that we typically over look the resurection as part of the atonement. Some things just don’t get fixed untill then.

  22. RT,

    I disagree with pretty much every word you said, but I will answer your final question, “what would Jesus do?” To that I answer, he would use his agency to choose to be like Christ.

    RT, J. Stapley, and all,

    What’s an example of something we can plausibly do, and have the will to do, but cannot do it? Or something we don’t want to do that our physiology forces us to do? I know of no such thing.

  23. For a while there, I thought this post was going to be about mental health, but it turns out it is about agency.

    Each of us has, because of our unique experiences, reactions to certain situations that arise uncontrolled. For a benign example, during my mission to Korea, every time a missionary was transferred, the branch or ward would sing “God Be With You.” Here I am, 20 years later, and still every time I start singing that hymn in church, I have to remind myself to sing in Korean.

    Some mental “illnesses” are chemical, and some are coping mechanisms, and some are “learned behaviors” like my example of the hymn. How many people who have a fear of dogs, for example, only developed that fear after an unpleasant experience with a dog? Or for a more extreme example, how many rape victims are comfortable with intimacy of any sort?

    The problem with many who focus only on the “agency” of a person is that their response to the person who is afraid of the dog and to the rape victim is to “get over it.” In both my personal and professional life, I have seen just that counsel given, by people who should know better.

  24. Err–to NOT sing in Korean. Just when you think Freud is dead….

  25. Eric, the issue is that our will isn’t just our spirit’s will but also our body’s. Put an other way, we’re not just a complete person trapped in a body. Rather we are our body. The body isn’t separate. Just as we are our spirit.

    So the very way you phrase the question presupposes the answer.

    If you are interested, I’d written a post on this several months ago using the Hebrew notion of nefesh. I think that the Hebrew way of thinking of all this is quite different that the kind of thinking that was ushered in by Descartes and which has been part of our modern heritage. I’d suggest that the Hebrew worldview, as well as being the proper context for the scriptures, is also more useful and has only recently been “rediscovered” philosophically.

  26. Amen, CS. People do not choose mental illness. Period.

    In the post I said,

    One of the particular difficulties of depression, for example, is that it seems to cut a person off from exactly the kind of feelings of joy that we associate with the workings of the Holy Ghost and the manifestation of the love of God.

    Any thoughts? Solutions? Words of comfort for those who may be depressed and feel utterly cut-off from God? (Where does this leave the “burning in the bosom” if the bosom is utterly numb?)

  27. Just to add to my prior comments. I think Paul’s point can be interpreted to entail that we don’t have a will but rather many wills. Part of our goal is to let the good wills dominate.

  28. Eric: I disagree with pretty much every word you [RT] said

    Nuyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

    I think RT is mostly out to lunch on this free will subject as well. That said, I wonder if you are underestimating the limitations various chemical imbalances (or whatever the problems may be) have on mortal brains. Behavior and emotions are often a function of a brain that is simply not functioning properly. Therefore, it is not always a matter of free will choice.

    This notion that “attitude determines altitude” and other similar platitiudes are fine and dandy if the hardware is working correctly. But if the hardware (our mortal bodies) is damaged then it can disrupt the instructions and the software (our spirits/intelligences) give.

    One of the great blessings of living in the last days is the advances in medications for mental illness. They can go a long way to assisting people get over problems with their hardware. In generations past many would have ended up like the heartbreaking old stories of “Aunt Sarah” who sobbed in her room for years on end. Now “Sarah” often can get proper medical help and live a happy and productive life.

    I think that spurning medications for clinical depression or anxiety or whatever is about as bright as spurning medication for diabetes.

  29. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    I think we need to get it into our minds that we arent a spirit and a seperate body. the spirit and body are intertwined and constitute our soul. Only until the ressurection will those chemical imbalances, that I know by experience can hinder your ability to function in certain situations, be fully fixed. However, it is NOT impossible to fight the problem with council from proffesionals, love from friends, medicine, and most importantly Gods love and COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING for each and every one of us. this is why the atonement is so beautiful to people suffering from this very difficult problem.

  30. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    one other note. though it can be harder to make and avoid certain decisions when it comes to things like depression (i’m dwelling on this specific problem because I do live with it and I think I understand it). Depression does NOT take away our agency. we can make decisions one way or the other. to say someone with depression can never make the right decision about something is extremely false and hurtful. I have been able to make great strides in life and know that as of now I am doing things god would be proud of.

  31. the spirit and body are intertwined and constitute our soul

    A very enlightening Mormon doctrine.

  32. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    yes. one of my favorites.


    Anyone who is reading this and feeling terrible and wants to talk, please, please drop me an email. You do not need to suffer in silence; there are many of us who are willing to be a listening ear.

  34. I think Sultan made an excellent point in comment #29. People can cope with a real, solid support system. The problem is that mental health challenges are often easy for people to forget, since they are not as visible as physical challenges.

    My wife has been on medication that occasionally gives her problems with her short-term memory. Sometimes she admits she doesn’t remember an event, and sometimes she is sure she remembers, but her memory is very different from what happened. A very frequent problem arises when she tells her memory of events to somebody who also was there, and her memory is obviously different. Rather than accepting the fact that she has memory lapses, people accuse her of lying about the event. It is just as fair to be angry with her about her memory problems as it is to be angry with somebody with a broken leg for not walking.

    What the Church should be is the support system that Sultan talks about. If we are all really children of God, we are all family. And you love your family, and stick by them, even when loving and staying is hard. Church should be home like the definition by, I think Frost: Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Too many members forget that, especially when the issue is a mental health challenge that, by its nature, does not have a physical manifestation like a cast on a broken leg does.

  35. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    CS Eric. —Very true statement. and I think the members fo the church are making good (but pretty slow) strides in helping those that suffer. more people are realizing that it is a problem, and I know people who have had support in this trial from the church, but sadly there are people that I know who need support that get very little if none at all. but because, like you say, it is not a physical thing you can see, they do not recieve help. the question is how do we speed up the process of helping people realize what a mental illness is and HOW to help those that suffer. because there are great ways to help, and unfortunately approaches that can be very harmful.

  36. That group you mention, Hidden Treasures, has published a book on suicide for Mormons that I was instrumental in getting done. It’s a very good resource for the survivors. The people involved don’t make any money off it, we all signed off on that. We just wanted to help other LDS people who suffered through the suicide of a loved one. I probably give one away a month. Isn’t that sad?

  37. Hi. I should probably read all of the comments before posting mine, but I’ll do so and post my thoughts on the conversation in a bit, or perhaps tomorrow (the vagaries of my illnesses kind of influence an ebb and flow of capability, initiative, or lack thereof that is unpredictable).

    I appreciated the reference to mentalhealthlibrary.

    That same site, has some Education Week talks that I first discovered when I did an internet search on the title, due to reading an August or September 2005 article from the Desert News online, that discussed one of them. I have found these to be VERY helpful. They are in Adobe Slideshow format. I am currently partway through Valley of Sorrow. Anyway, here’s the link to the talks: Talks

    I also have some additional resources listed in the sidebar of my blog, which is about my life, accepting myself, and about my struggles with recent diagnosis and finally after all these years finding out what is going on with me, and finally having some professional mental help.

    I’m feeling really awkward now; I’m not sure why! But I really feel STRONGLY that one good purpose, maybe the only one but one good purpose I can take out of the misery is to try and help others understand what it is like, and try to not judge so harshly the mentally ill, and just about any aspect of being mentally ill.

    Anyway, I apologize for not reading the comments thread yet, I’ll go do that now.

  38. Thanks Sarebear. And good luck to you.

  39. First, on the agency issue, a bit. I hope the thread can develop some other directions on mental illness, as there is SO MUCH that could be issues to talk about. But anyway, for ME, what I have settled so far in myself, is this:

    (Up until a few months ago, the issue would have brought me to a suicidal state, and had, several times, as I could not sort out various conflicts, huge ones, regarding the issue). I cannot say it is completely settled, but I do know this:

    First, I asked myself, do I know right from wrong? I said, YES. Do I have the light of Christ, then? YES. Have I always, or at least, as best I can, given my struggles, tried to take responsibility for my actions, even if sometimes it takes time and returning to a more “even”, “stable”, or more rational state of mind, to do so? Yes. I accept responsibility for myself and my actions, although there are states I experience where I am not capable of seeing that. But so far, I’ve always returned to a state where I am capable of doing so.

    Next question. Do my illnesses affect my ability to behave appropriately, or to judge what is appropriate or sinful behavior? At times, YES. So, what does that mean, for ME? I kind of likened it to, say someone chooses to get drunk, and then accidentally hurts someone. Are they responsible? Yes, because they chose to drink, knowing it would affect their judgement. What if (an unlikely scenario, but it suits the point I’m trying to make) someone is forced, say at knifepoint or their mouth is held open, nose closed, and they are FORCED to drink alcohol, or injected with some other mind-altering substance? And they then behave in a way that is irresponsible, possibly hurt someone, act immorrally, etc. Are they responsible? I would posit that they are not, as it was not their choice. Now, I would say that there are extreme degrees of many mental illnesses, that at least put people in that latter category from time to time.

    However, I would suggest, from my experience (of being mentally ill, I do not have any experience with being drunk, but it’s common knowledge that say having 4 drinks can affect your judgement), I would propose that in a lot of states, at alot of times, being mentally ill, can be like being partly drunk. And that you did not choose to do the drinking. Your perception of reality is altered; your perception of what your actions mean, is altered. Heck, there’s even states where reality MEANS NOTHING. Your impulse control is decreased, sometimes drastically.

    There’s an area of the brain, which I can’t put a finger on the name of it right now, but it controls the short term memory. And in victims of say a car crash, when the victim has sustained an injury to that portion of the brain, the victim’s ability to moderate their emotions and behavior is lessened to a degree depending on the severity of the injury, I think. There are physical, and chemical changes that affect how the brain can work, or short-circuit, in ways that really do affect our ability to make good choices. Alot of it is dependent on our ability to moderate our natural impulses, to inhibit our behavior.

    And, especially when manic, I can tell you that the ability, and or even the MOTIVATION to, stifle various impulses, is lessened to a degree depending on the level of mania and anxieties and other stuff. Still, I accept responsibility for my actions.

    I also accept (well, this is a struggle, and I’ve been told my my “ologist” as I call him, that it actually takes quite a while to accept that I have the illness, and the ramifications (but he wouldn’t want me to rest on that and just not try to learn to control the illness, at least to some degree), I also accept, or am trying to, that my illnesses affects, and even CAUSES, as controversial as that may be, my behavior in various ways.

    I despaired inside, at the thought that I perhaps might be more prone to sin than others, and at the horror, the ABSOLUTE HORROR, I felt inside, that the lessening of impulse control, the lessening of inhibitions, that I feel in manic states, may lead to unrighteous behavior. I was just HORRIFIED. I would NEVER use that as an excuse, though. I ACCEPT FULL RESPONSIBILITY for my actions. Although as I say, it may take some time and the mania swinging back down, for me to return to the mental state where I am more myself, and can do so. The HORROR of realizing these things, is actually in some way, comforting to me to realize that I really DO accept responsibility for myself. But anyway, I was horrified at the prospect that my illnesses might make me more prone to sin.

    So, what is a person to do . . . . I contemplated the Atonement and Resurrection. I thought about the Savior, and that fact that he suffered EVERYTHING, not just sin, but that he KNOWS what it is like to suffer my illnesses. HE KNOWS. And he provided the way out of this dilemma I found myself in. That his suffering is more than sufficient for me, as it is for everyone else. The horror gave way to joy, as I realized, that at least in the issue of repentence, I WAS NORMAL, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. I could REPENT, just like everyone else, and my sins would be forgotten. The answer to the possibility of perhaps being more susceptible to lack of judgement ability to control impulses, was and is the Atonement.

    I began to sob, as I realized, that as much as I’ve longed to be a normal, functioning person like everyone else, that at least in this, I WAS like everyone else. That the same opportunity for repentence applies to ME. No matter that PERHAPS there MIGHT be some problematic issues involving behavior and my illnesses; I can take responsibility for myself, and repent. I KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG. Are there states where right and wrong become affected, in my whirls of mania and other such things? YES. Anyway, I’m starting, to repeat myself, AGAIN. But it’s an important issue.

    In smaller things, in my agitated irritable mania, where I tend to snap at people, and just NOT able to cope with much at all, I try not to beat myself up for every little instance of that, because, I AM ILL. Some might say excusing ANY behavior with that, is bad, but you know what? To apologize for every little thing that is affected by my illness, would, I think, be like apologizing for my existence; apologizing for my illness. Still, when I’ve caused offense or hurt, I try to apologize and take care of it. But some stuff just has to be let be, or I’d be exhausted from, say, trying to pick up every leaf that fell from 100 trees, before another one fell.

    A completely different issue that someone brought up, was how then do you discern the whisperings or burnings in the bosom of the Holy Ghost? It can be problematic, and while I can’t say that the Lord has intervened in this problem very frequently, there IS an example of an experience I had, that I may relate tomorrow or soon, if anyone has read this far and is still interested. Where this very issue, of not being able to know, and NOT BEING ABLE to TRUST MY JUDGEMENT, and not being able to TRUST the thought processes I had used to come to a decision I was praying about if it was right, and how the Lord intervened in a way that someone like me could KNOW. Anyway, sorry to ramble on so long.

    I know there’s alot of other stuff in my blog, but if you dig through, you will see some posts on faith and my illnesses, and other experiences of my illness, and some descriptions of mania and depression and stuff. Some of the silly stuff I post, is my attempt to accept that side of myself, instead of hating it into oblivion.

    Anyway, I look forward to more discussion. And would love to be an active participant in it, and relate my experiences as they seem to illustrate various issues and sometimes paint a picture of what it can be like, sometimes. For me, anyway. I’m still pretty new to the whole thing, which I think is PERFECT for letting people know how confusing the whole process can be. Not new to the illness, been ill my whole life, but new to knowing that it WAS an illness, and stuff. And getting help.

  40. Mental illness runs in my family–both sides. But I’m not talking about things like depression or bi-polar disorder. I don’t think of those as mental illnesses, although they are. The illnesses that run in my family are full blown hallucinatory mental illnesses. Paranoid schizophrenia (both my sisters). One would often hallucinate that she saw or heard God and Satan, that things happened that were completely untrue–she had a rich boyfriend, people were trying to kill her, she was raped, etc. The other started to have hallucinations but has been able to control them with medication.

    I have an uncle on my dad’s side who seems like a perfectly amiable, sane guy, until he starts in on his conspiracy theories. Not really theories, though–just jumbled symbolic thoughts that only make sense to him.

    My mom’s cousin is in and out of mental institutions, her official diagnosis is schizophrenia with psychotic tendencies.

    There’s more but you get the drift.

  41. Hallucinations are possible with both bipolar and depression, but I surely don’t want them. I am so sorry for your familys’ struggles with these illnesses and issues.

  42. This is a great post and much needed. Count me in with those who believe that when our physical selves are affected by things like mental illnesses or handicaps, a corresponding amount of our culpability is lessened or erased. The easy examples are, of course, those whose mental and emotional faculties are severely impaired–we can see and/or diagnose the problem, make exceptions. When we get into things like mental illness and milder disorders, it gets harder to discern what can be chalked up to a person’s character or personality flaws and what can be chalked up to the disorder. Either way, I think it’s important to not be too judgmental. My sister and I joke that a family trait of one of our parents’ families is to be neurotic in some way, just because of the issues that people get fixated on. In one person’s case, almost the entire extended family’s convinced that this person has serious chemical imbalances at the very least, and probably has a handful of mental illnesses and post traumatic stress disorders (are there more than one?). Keeping that in mind helps us to deal with this person’s words and actions.

    However, I think we are no less obligated to be understanding and forgiving of those who just have personality problems, who’ve made a habit of bad decisions, or who just don’t have, want, or practice basic social skills. That doesn’t mean that we open ourselves or our families up to dangerous or toxic situations, especially where kids are involved, but I think we as a general church membership could do with a bit less judgmentalism, both for those struggling with mental illnes and those just struggling with being themselves (which would include most of us, I imagine. Which is what I try to tell myself when dealing with my cranky, judgmental LDS neighbor and then I go and pray for charity.


  43. I think I have been unclear in my comments. I do recognize that there are physiological limitations on our freedom. Obviously, if my legs are cut off, I cannot walk. Various diseases and illnesses, both of the body and the mind, can reduce the number of choices we have.

    But I don’t believe it can impair our ability to be like Christ. If we are to understand Christ-likeness as a state of being, then there is nothing that can hamper that potential. There is no illness, whether of the body or the mind, that forces me to be proud, or that keeps me from being humble. Nothing that forces me to hate, or keeps me from loving. Nothing that forces me to be resentful, or limits my ability to forgive. There is no gene, no illness, no disease, no chemical imbalance, no physical or mental impairment of any kind that forces me to be selfish. We can always choose to be submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. We can always choose to be like Christ.

  44. “We can always choose to be submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. We can always choose to be like Christ.”


    This notion of everyone’s being able to choose suggests that everyone is accountable. I assume, of course, that you exclude those under age 8. I assume, but do not know, that you would exclude those who, under current Church guidance, are not considered sufficiently accountable to be baptized (or that your definition of ability to choose includes a definition that does not rise to the level of gospel accountability).

    In what ways, do you think, can a person suffering from severe clinical depression choose to be more like Christ? In what way can a person suffering from severe schizophrenic hallucinations choose to be more like Christ?

  45. I think you’re both right. The book Feeling Good is good about this issue. I had to read it in increments. It’s hard to do, though, when you’re feeling so discouraged and full of self loathing because you’re not like other people.

    I do think there is merit in cognitive therapy, but
    we who have mental illnesses must have help. Grim determination just won’t cut it.

  46. Eric Russell, I simply disagree with your comment. There are plenty of diseases that compell the fealings of hate, selfishness and proud.

  47. Eric – I think that you raise some interesting issues, but it seems to me that most Mormons drop the ball on agency and depression. While it is possibly more culture than doctrine, I have sat in several meetings where I have heard members say that we can “choose” to be happy. Doesn’t make much sense to a person who has such low seratonin levels that they cannot feel any joy or God’s love. In fact, it is more likely to increase their feelings of self-loathing.

  48. DavidH, in what ways can they not?

    J. Stapley, I’m not sure there’s evidence to support either side here. But it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with those claiming that there are diseases that cause such effects. And I don’t believe it’s ever been proven.

    kris, I agree that it’s complicated and that it may not make sense. But it doesn’t mean it’s not true. There are many people who have the same serotonin levels as those who may claim to not be able to feel God’s love, but who can. Therefore, serotonin levels, while possibly a contributing factor, are clearly not a cause.

  49. Just a note, but the claim that serotonin levels are what causes these illnesses is a relative myth. Realistically scientists don’t have a clue for what causes the vast majority of mental illness. Our understanding of the brain is very preliminary. That’s not to say that serotonin levels aren’t related. But how isn’t exactly clear. (Which is why many anti-depressants only perform slightly better than placebo in many tests)

  50. Eric Russell, are you stating that schizophrenia doesn’t really include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia? Being delusional is by very definition out of control of one’s perceptions of reality. Fear and hate are consequences of delusion in these cases. Though I am not a big fan of the Treatment Advocacy Center, here is a decent overview of the physiological basis for schizophrenia.

  51. Ronan,

    Thanks for inciting this series. I look forward reading more.

    Learning of the reality of mentall illness in my life has been both a blessing and a burden. A blessing because I now have (some) hope that I’m not merely a morally deficient scumbag and therefore consigned to flames of evelasting woe. A burden because it would seem that I am likely to struggle with mental illness (in some measure) for the rest of my life.

    That said, one need not conclude from reading the above that I have a problem with “serious” sin. No such luck.

  52. Eric,

    Suppose someone has a hallucination that their neighbor is pointing a gun at them, and shoots them, believing it is self-defense. Is that person choosing to be like Christ, because he did not shoot until he thought he needed to in self-defense? If, because of those same hallucinations, he believes the Church has been taken over by the devil, how does he choose to be like Christ? Or how about, if because of delusion, a person believes that he is Christ, but because of those delusions, he believes that Christ was proud, not humble, and behaves accordingly?

    What about a person, severely depressed, who cannot get up in the morning. A well-meaning, but ill-informed ward member, repeatedly tells him that he must be lazy or, if one of the triggers of the depression was abuse by someone, that the depressed one should become “full of love” towards the abuser. I suppose to be more Christ-like, the depressed one should smile and say, “My golly, you are right,” and leap out of bed and become a fully productive member of society, and immediately and cheerfully forgive (and embrace) his abuser. Or, what do you mean by such a person’s becoming more like Christ?

  53. a person’s becoming more like Christ

    Let me parse Eric in a way I find more charitable. We can all be MORE like Christ. None of us can be LIKE Christ. And there is a continuum: all of us are at different stages and some find it easier to be more like Christ than others, for any number of legitimate reasons. Thank God that we are judged according to our own abilities and not by some arbitrary measure.

  54. Did you know that the ventricular spaces in the brain, of people such as myself, are larger than in the non-mentally ill? (Kind of freaks me out, sometimes lol!).

    If there can be a disorder such as diabetes, that can cause aberrant behavior, and that disorder is NOT in the brain (see Steel Magnolias, where “Shelby” starts wigging out due to diabetic shock or whatever it’s called, and yeah I know it’s a movie but it’s a portrayal of an actual condition), it would seem to be logical that there could be dysfunctioning of how things work in the brain, that would affect or even cause things as well. We have a spirit, and will, but our bodies are the means by which we are able to be present in this world. And the very nature of physical stuff, at least in our non-perfected state, is that it has flaws, develops illnesses, things can and do go wrong. Have you never experienced the irrational feelings and such that a pregnant woman goes through? That is not a mental illness, but it IS affected by chemistry.

    Our BRAIN is the physical structure, and the chemicals that go with it, that supports our ability to direct our will; make choices, and act upon things. Do you suppose, that those with Alzheimer’s, when they act out, are doing so of their own free will? Our will, if the brain is in some sort of physical problem (and chemical IS physical, it is not imaginary, or an intangible concept like feelings), can be limited, constricted, affected, or otherwise be in trouble due to causes completely outside our own choice. EVERYTHING we do and are, can only BE with the amount of health necessary to do and be, that. Our health isn’t the be all and end all, but it is one often overlooked, and often DISCOUNTED, factor. The physical (AND THIS INCLUDES CHEMICAL, diabetes is a chemical (ie insulin), problem), nature of our bodies AND BRAINS, can affect everything. We are subject to EVERY trial, and, across the breadth of humanity, EVERY INFIRMITY there can be, EVERY physical disease, flaw, imbalance, what have you, that can occur in the physical structure of our bodies (which INCLUDES the brain; alot of people say bodies, and think the brain is somehow immune to the physical and chemical problems).

    Of course, I understand there are people who will, to their last breath, refuse to understand this issue of mental illness affecting a person’s ability to judge, and act appropriately. I run across people, who cannot accept what seems like a lesser standard for others, than they hold for themselves. They can’t handle what seems like the unfairness of it. They feel, somehow, that saying the mentally ill may have problems being able to judge appropriately, is like somehow allowing them to get away with something; to slip out of the same judgements they themselves (the healthy pearson) is subject to, and that they just cannot handle what feels to them is the inherent unfairness of that.

    LIFE IS NOT FAIR. An example I like to use, is that of the law of consecration, or whatever that is called, when Joseph tried to have people live this. Someone who produced alot, but got only his needs back in return, and saw a great deal of what he produced, go to someone who produced little to none, due to circumstances (health, or what haveyou), and complained about how unfair it was. He was told, by Joseph or some other presiding leader, that it wasn’t about fairness; it was given to them according to their NEEDS. Which is dependent on circumstances, etc. So for everyone it was a different situation. Some were required to produce alot, and not receive most of it back, because that was their capability; some, were not required to produce much, or even any, if their ability did not allow, and received much.

    Anyway. Another issue, besides having behavior potentially caused by illness, is having the ability to do things diminished by it (which somehow gets less objection from people than the former). I know with my anxieties, and other things, that there are so many things that I cannot do right now. Alot of things that other people would say I “should” do, or be doing. (I do know, though, that I should not listen to what others try to impose on me; it is all up to me, and not what the world wants me to do.) Still, one could perhaps wonder about what might seem like sins of ommission; not ommitting something important when, say, confessing something to the bishop (although that sort of thing, potentially happens to; I have such a maze of anxieties in my brain I have to navigate and find ways around to accomplish most anything, and sometimes they block me at every turn), but possibly ommitting what might seem like necessary action on someone’s part; something for which most of society would censure that person for not doing. I cannot go into more detail as, there are alot of judgemental people. But I will say, that my daughter gets taken care of, no matter how we have to work it. She is taken care of. But you can see, that for me to even have to say that, that there must be a GREAT DEAL of dysfunction in my ability to function on some very basic levels. And I possibly might be judged for that.

    Anyway, just some additional points.

  55. All I can say is that mental illness is a hard burden to be given in this life. Severe cases can be heartbreaking. I for one am thankful for the atonement that will heal in the Res those that suffer from mental illness and I am thankful that a just Jesus will be our judge on judgement day. He will know what is really our sin and what was the result of mental illness.

    I am also thankful for medical science that has helped some of those that truly do suffer from mental illness

  56. J., I believe that schizophrenia includes hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. What I don’t believe is that those effects necessarily compel a person to hate. It seems to me that being forced to hate is logically impossible. If you’re being forced to hate against your will, do you really hate?

    DavidH, yes, by becoming more like Christ I mean one ought to “immediately and cheerfully forgive (and embrace) his abuser”.

  57. Jack, you have said exactly what I feel sometimes, in fact, most of the time. I feel morally deficient. That is so sad.

  58. Eric,

    In fact, there are parts of the brain which control our emotions, our social behavior, our sense of empathy for others, our aggression, etc.; when these areas are destroyed through disease or injury, we can indeed lose the ability to be loving, unselfish, self-sacrificing, etc. The parts of the brain that enable us to have self-control, to truly choose how we behave, can also be damaged. Such brain damage is generally permanent, and its effects cannot be ameliorated by some act of will. Neurobiological research has provided us with ample evidence of the connection between brain damage and mental illness.

    I’m at work, so I can’t research and cite anything right now, but I will do so tonight.

    Mental illness is simply part of our imperfect physical state. In such cases as those I mention above, I wonder if the sufferer regresses back to pre-accountability?

    Ah, well. Since we’re all going to be resurrected in perfect bodies some day, it would be only a temporary suspension of agency, as with mentally disabled adults.

  59. “Mental illness is simply part of our imperfect physical state. In such cases as those I mention above, I wonder if the sufferer regresses back to pre-accountability?

    Ah, well. Since we’re all going to be resurrected in perfect bodies some day, it would be only a temporary suspension of agency, as with mentally disabled adults.”

    Hi Serenity. So much gray its hard to tell thank goodness for the atonement and Jesus as judge.

    The hardest thing about being a long time YM leader is that from time to time over the years I have truly mentally ill kids. They are a challenge not just for the leaders but for the other boys as well. When they are really mentally ill it can be hard to tell they can seem OK for a long time and then have a complete breakdown (FYI this can happen on long campouts) until you have interactions with them over time. Then it comes apparent. My heart always goes out to the parents.

  60. For a good example of how the physical part of the brain controls a person’s ability to choose and control their emotions look up Phineas Gage. The man lived through a railroad spike being shot through his head by an accidental explosion. The frontal lobe was permanently damaged, and the once gentle and friendly man was instantly volatile and impossible to deal with.
    While a mental illness isn’t permanent brain damage, it is still a situation where the physical brain is altering, and limiting an individual’s control over their emotions, control that most members assume is absolute because of the doctrine of agency. Many of us have such a hard time believing that our thoughts and emotions are to some extent physical, and therefore beyond our ability to control by will power alone.
    We still maintain agency by controling our emotions and impulses another way. My dad controls his anger not by ‘sucking it up and getting a grip’ but by choosing to take prozac everyday. I think that is where they “if thy right hand offend thee, then cut it off” comes in handy. Agency is more than simply choosing, agency can be choosing to not give yourself that choice. In the case of mental illnesses it can be choosing to use tools to help you make ‘the right’ choice.

  61. Eric,

    I am not sure I understand your position. Do you mean you believe that mental illnesses exist, but they do not affect our moral agency in any way? Or do you mean that, even if they affect our agency, everyone has some degree of agency that in some small way may allow them to become more like Jesus?

  62. Hey, I’ve lost the appropriate emails, sorry Steve, but I’d like to write a post about my experience growing up in the church and being mentally ill. I have a list of DONT’s and some Do’s I’ve wanted to share with church leadership and this looks like a good forum to do that. Church social services still gives me nightmares.

  63. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    all of us are at different stages and some find it easier to be more like Christ than others, for any number of legitimate reasons. Thank God that we are judged according to our own abilities and not by some arbitrary measure.

    What a beautiful doctrine. we WILL be judged FAIRLY by our loving savior who knows exactly why we do things and what causes our problems. we as humans are (IMO) way to hard on ourselves when it comes to not reaching par on our expectations of ourselves. in my experience with myself and my family members, its seems that forgiving yourself while suffering from depression is much harder to do than many can imagine. I know that once I learned to realize we all make mistakes and the biggest part of forgiveness is forgiving yourself, I was able to cope so much better with my trial of depression. again I don’t want to spend to much time on the subject of depression because there are many other mental problems, but that is my take on the subject. as for mental illness having an effect on our moral agency. I do NOT believe it fully disables you from choosing what is right(except for extreme cases). I will say again that I see myself as choosing things that the savior would be proud of. Mental illness CAN make it harder however. I don’t expect anyone to understand if they haven’t been through it though. as for sufferers of delusions. anyone who says that shouldn’t affect their behavior needs to back up. you have no idea what they go through. I know I don’t. and Eric. you said

    DavidH, yes, by becoming more like Christ I mean one ought to “immediately and cheerfully forgive (and embrace) his abuser”.

    you ever been abused? because if you havent I would suggest reading up on the effects that abuse has on peoples mental and physical state of being. It is NOT just a forgive and forget thing. if you are being abused you need to flee that situation. not just forget about it.

  64. Props to Ronan for addressing this topic and thanks to those who have shared valuable insight.
    I have struggled with anxiety and depression ever since I can remember. At times, I have felt completely isolated from God, others, reality and even myself. On my mission I often felt that it was because I lacked faith. At one point I could feel no faith, hope or charity. I prayed, fasted, cried, begged and pleaded for some kind of feeling- anything but emptiness. It was months before I would feel anything, but it did come eventually.
    Eric, it is my experience that there are cases in which mental illness can inhibit an individual’s ability to act. To use your example (#57), one is not always able to immediately and cheerfully perform certain actions. Perhaps later, but for me, such a task is impossible when I am in the throes of a depression.

  65. DavidH, I mean that they do not affect our agency. The problem with saying that is that I have a very different definition of agency than most. Simply stated, I believe that agency is the will. And nothing, even a mental illness, can compel us to will against our will, because such a thing is logically impossible.

    Sultan of Squirrels said, “if you are being abused you need to flee that situation. not just forget about it.” I agree wholeheartedly. But if you cannot forgive, you will never be at peace.

  66. MW, I believe that it is indeed possible to “immediately and cheerfully perform certain actions” even in the deepest throes of depression. I know because I have done it. But I believe that we thoroughly convince ourselves that we cannot through a process of self-deception. This process is extremely complicated, however, and I could hardly explain in the space of a comment. So for now I’ll just have to leave it at that.

  67. BBell,

    You said, “So much gray its hard to tell thank goodness for the atonement and Jesus as judge.” Exactly.

  68. Eric, I can respect that your experience is such that you have been able to “immediately and cheerfully perform certain actions”. However, you speak as if your experience with depression were universal.
    I can only speak from my own experience. While on my mission I was, gratefully, able to function in terms of getting out and doing the work. But I did not experience a lightening of mood or cheerfulness no matter how much I wanted to. It just didn’t happen.
    Whether or not someone can logically be compelled against their will depends on how you construct the argument (#66). It seems that we start with a different set of premises.
    Bbell- I second Serenity’s sentiments. Awesome.

  69. Eric,

    Would you mind responding to my other hypotheticals in number 53, in particular the hypotheticals regarding schizophrenic delusions? I am curious how your definition of agency and will might apply in that situation, as well as how that person could become more like Jesus.

  70. Steve McIntyre says:

    As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety, I would like to point out that, from a cultural perspective, we Latter-day Saints don’t tend to give mental illness the legitimacy and attention it deserves.

    Admittedly, it’s difficult to really understand mental illness without experiencing it. Its affects did not become apparent in my life until age 21; previous to that time, I shared the naive view held by so many that one’s struggles with depression could be controlled by the mere exercise of willpower.

    Well, it’s not that simple. We’re talking about conditions that deal with brain chemistry. My struggles taught me a lot. These disorders are real. They bring you down to dark, dark emotional states that are not necessarily the result of self-pity, low self-esteem, or sin. It’s difficult to describe, but basically, expecting someone to just “snap out of it” is essentially the same as asking someone with the flu or some other illness to just get better. If they could get better that easily, they would.

    These disorders are frequently accompanied by intense, unjustified guilt. When you’re sitting in Church, every time the word “unworthy” is mentioned, you associate it with yourself, regardless of the context in which the word is spoken. Every word of counsel and encouragement seems to spell out your own imperfections. Church services become almost unbearable.

    Feelings of unworthiness are compounded by notions derived from such scriptures as Mosiah 2:41, which associate happiness with righteousness. For the depressed, it’s not difficult to make the logical jump and conclude that if you’re not happy, you must be far from righteous. Once again, it’s on your shoulders. It’s your fault.

    Unfortunately, this is the kind of response you get when sharing with certain members about your condition. There seems to be this notion within the Church (not universally, but it’s not neglible either) that if you’re feeling down, it must be your fault. You’re not praying enough or reading your scriptures enough. You’re not magnifying your calling. You need to go to the temple more, but if you’re feeling this depressed, you’re probably not even worthy to go. You must have some unresolved sin. You must not be repenting enough.

    This is the response I got from my bishop about my condition. He was concerned and doing his best to help, but his unfamiliarity with mental disorders resulted in a judgment that left me presuming that my “inspired leader” had essentially confirmed my unworthiness. While I had been trying to fight such feelings, I was now faced with the notion that perhaps they were a manifestation of God’s displeasure.

    The disorders also create a paradox that downplay the reality of spiritual experiences that seem to confirm your worthiness. You’re mind is creating all these depressing feelings and thoughts that apparently do not reflect reality. If it can create such convincing and real feelings that are unjustified by reality, then who’s to say that our “spiritual experiences” aren’t also manufactured by our mind? When I thought the Spirit was telling me that God loves me and that I’m worthy, maybe that was just my own mind manufacturing false feelings and thoughts. Suddently, any feelings that seem to go against your depression are very easily discounted.

    These are the kind of problems you face.

    I feel that the Church is trying to increase awareness of these issues, but it will take time and training before the leaders and general membership reach a greater understanding. But we’re moving in the right direction. I believe the Brethren are aware of the problems, and in time, I believe our leaders will be much more skilled in identifying mental disorder and referring sufferers to appropriate professionals for help.

  71. In the case of mental illnesses it can be choosing to use tools to help you make ‘the right’ choice

    The medications and professional help available (or not so available, depending on income and insurance), aren’t perfect. And some only work partially. And, as I’m discovering, it’s kind of trial and error as to which ones work, and in my case there’s alot I can’t take because they’d complicate or worsen other things.

    As well, not being able to afford this very very expensive medication, or as I am on, multiple medications, and the very expensive treatment, is also an issue.

    I am actually NOT affording them, myself. But to say how I am able to be on them, would be indiscreet. Perhaps what I’ve already said, is indiscreet.

    Social Security Disability (it is disability insurance, and not a handout; it is not just for retirees) application has been under way for 17 months or so; the end, I hope, is in sight within the next 7-8 months or so, or sooner. 90% of the people at my stage, get approved. So I’m hoping, so I can pay for my care myself, and I’d also get Medicare for my daughter and myself, which would help. As of course just the disability wouldn’t pay both therapy and meds for the month. But with Medicare, it would be very beneficial. It has been a HORRIBLE process. A process that led me towards suicide many times.

    But anyway, I hope you didn’t intend to imply that the mentally ill who are not taking meds and/or getting help, are “choosing” not to, are “choosing” wrong, instead of right. It isn’t always accessible. And only recently became so, for me.

    And Congress keeps cutting mental health care funding and programs . . . .

  72. Steve, your experience with feelings of guilt and unworthiness sounds very similar my wife’s. Fortunately for her, she hasn’t had people in the church insinuate that her problems are her fault. That’s not to say that the LDS cultural misconception of mental illness hasn’t been a source of grief for her, but the individual members that she has confided in and asked for help when necessary have been very understanding and supportive (It may help that the people she has confided in are all young and well-educated. I think we are in the midst of a profound shift in how mental illness is perceived.) And our Bishop has been nothing but caring and supportive. We’re lucky I guess.

    Sarebear, access to care is an issue that causes me a lot of grief. The process of trial and error is very costly. And any kind of talk therapy is outrageously expensive. I’m desperate to finish school and start making some money so my wife can get whatever help she needs. She is getting some help now, but I don’t think that it is adequate. As a family of four living on a grad student stipend we don’t even come close to having enough money for comprehensive treatment. At the same time we have too much money for my wife to qualify for medicaid. So we’re stuck having to pay for all of her treatment with student loans, worried that we won’t be able to dig ourselves out of debt once I finally get a job. The one thing we do have is a pretty good hope that one day I’ll have a good job. Some people don’t even have that.

  73. MW, I am not so much making a claim to universality as contradicting one. If there is one exception, there could be many more.

    DavidH, I’m not quite sure what’s going on in your example. I would suggest that he would become more like Christ in exactly the same way as everyone else, by having a broken heart and contrite spirit.

  74. Sorry, I realized that my “young and well-educated” comment up there (#73) sounds ageist, elitist, and/or classist (and maybe some other -ists that I can’t think of right now). I should say well-informed instead. In my experience I have found that there are many people that are older and/or not formally educated that are very well-informed and understanding as pertains to mental health issues. The people in our ward that my wife is close to and has confided in are well-informed, and that’s helpful. It just so happens that because of the nature of our ward and our stage in life, they are also young and well-educated.

    I do think that formal, liberal education helps people be well-informed and open-minded about mental illness. And I think that young people today grow up in a culture that has a better understanding of and healthier attitudes toward mental illness than the culture in which their grandparents grew up. Of course, that doesn’t stop many young people from having misconceptions (I had many). And I definitely wouldn’t say that older people and uneducated people in general are ill-informed, at least not when I’m thinking carefully about what I’m saying.

  75. Eric,

    It appears our understandings are so far apart that further discussion may not be fruitful. But before giving up, let me try one more time:

    Do you believe that insanity exists? By insanity, I mean the longstanding legal definition that a person is insane who either does not know the nature of what he or she is doing, or does not know that what he or she is doing is wrong (the so-called McNaughton rule).

    If insanity exists, it seems like that person does not have moral agency (that is, the insanity means that his or her agency has been reduced or eliminated). If you believe insanity does not exist (i.e., that everyone knows the nature of what he or she is doing all of the time, and that everyone can know all of the time whether what he or she is doing is right or wrong), we are at loggerheads (and legislatures, courts and juries have been fooled for over 160 years by believing insanity exists).

    Do you believe the Church is in error by determining that some people, over 8, are not accountable, and should not be baptized? If the Church is not in error, and those individuals are not accountable, then in what sense do they have agency?

    Finally, imagine you are an ecclesiastical advisor. A child comes to you who has been abused. Would you simply advise the child to “immediately and cheerfully forgive (and embrace) the abuser”? If the child tries to forgive immediately, but does not seem to do so cheerfully, would you counsel the child that he or she should feel guilty for not being more like Christ?

  76. middle child says:

    I am married to someone that I did not marry.

    I have learned the meaning of unconditional, Christlike love…it is the only love that can help to heal someone with severe depression.

    My husband had a brain injury in a sports accident. We have been married for 15 years. His frontal lobe was damaged. He now suffers with depression, social anxiety, mood swings, personality changes, cynicism…a completely different person than the Golden Boy that I married…no longer the life of the party, the guy who sees the glass FULL, the guy who loves everyone and is loved by all……, sleeps til 10 or 11am, can’t work, has difficulty seeing anything good in anyone or anything…very impulsive and poor judgement.

    My heart breaks for him daily.

    But, I promised Heavenly Father that I would be his helpmeet. I promised that I would be the one person that would cleave unto him. He is my eternal companion. And, while he was my strength and my anchor and my light in life for 15 years…and while I thought that our marriage would never change…I can not help but remember the promises that I made.

    So, this is the love that a mentally ill person needs and deserves. It is the situation that they will be most likely to find some kind of peace and healing. DO NOT HAVE ANY EXPECTATIONS, DO NOT JUDGE…it is not your place. When you really love, the way the Christ loves us…you just love. He can judge, we can not. SO, whether you believe a person has the ability to choose or not, it is still your job to love these people without condition or expectation or judgement. And, loving someone who returns nothing but negativity in return is the ultimate test in Christlike love.

    And, as far as a mentally ill person having a contrite spirit and a broken heart…I have never seen a more broken hearted, BROKEN SPIRITED person than someone who suffers with mental illness. And, because Christ has the ultimate empathy gained through His suffering…I believe that once a mentally ill person has a handle on their illnesses, their capacity for true compassion and Christlike love is far more than most…because of the Hell that they have been through, and because they know that it’s not “having a bad day” or “having a bad attitude”….and they know how horrible it feels when someone makes that judgement. So, by their suffering, they have become more like Christ. Once the healing has happened, they will not have lost what they have learned in their suffering.

    Please please please love people through this. It is hardest to love those who seem to respond least to our love, but it seems that they are the souls who need it the most. That is our challenge.

  77. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    Eric said

    Sultan of Squirrels said, “if you are being abused you need to flee that situation. not just forget about it.” I agree wholeheartedly. But if you cannot forgive, you will never be at peace.

    true. maybe it was your use of the word “immediately” that bothered me. because healing from that kind of experience can take a long long time.

  78. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    one other thing. I think this topic really helps us realize how lucky we are to have a perfect all knowing brother and judge in the Savior. because obviously even those that suffer from mental illness have differing opinions about how it can affect your life. (though that is to be expected). The atonement is truly amazing.

  79. Alma 7:11-12

    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.

    And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

  80. Wow. This is a fantastic idea. Kudos to Ronan for initiating this discussion. I agree with Tom on a number of points, most importantly, that society in general and Mormon culture is undergoing a shift in its understanding of mental illness.

    One thing that troubles me is this pernicious fallacy of self-perfection. For example the comment (#42)

    …when our physical selves are affected by things like mental illnesses or handicaps, a corresponding amount of our culpability is lessened or erased.

    implies that there is some optimal level at which we are entirely culpible and therefore responsible for our own perfection. Simply not the case. We are imperfect beings. Sultan’s comment is particularly insightful

    the spirit and body are intertwined and constitute our soul.

    You cannot separate body (brain) and mind.

  81. Behold, a brain scientist (Brock) enters the fray. Speak up young man!

    Again, thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments (too many now for me to comment on directly). Many of you seem to suffer greatly. Many of you have family members that suffer. God bless you all. And may you find good doctors and compassionate friends.

  82. middle child,
    Wow. I can’t even imagine . . . Hang in there.

    Shout this one from the rooftops: “Please please please love people through this.”

    I failed to do this for too long. I can’t say that I have perfect love now, but I think that since I learned how to “love her through it,” I’ve helped my wife through her problems much more than I’ve exacerbated them.

  83. One thing that troubles me is this pernicious fallacy of self-perfection. For example the comment (#42)

    ” …when our physical selves are affected by things like mental illnesses or handicaps, a corresponding amount of our culpability is lessened or erased.”

    implies that there is some optimal level at which we are entirely culpible and therefore responsible for our own perfection. Simply not the case. We are imperfect beings.

    Brock, you’re misreading me. I agree entirely with your point that the concept of self-perfection is a fallacy but I think my comment does not suggest that concept. Yes, we are incapable of being responsible for our own perfection–this is why we need the infinite and atoning grace of Jesus Christ. Yes, I chose the phrase “corresponding amount of our culpability” to reflect that there is, in your words, an optimal level of culpability based on our own healthy, but imperfect, faculties and abilities. Maybe I should’ve said that whatever our culpability IS is mitigated by our circumstances and is correspondingly adjusted by God. Either way, I do not see the logical connection with that assertion to your ‘therefore we’re responsible for our own perfection’ conclusion.

  84. David H,

    “Do you believe that insanity exists?”


    “Do you believe the Church is in error by determining that some people, over 8, are not accountable, and should not be baptized?”


    “Would you simply advise the child to “immediately and cheerfully forgive (and embrace) the abuser”?”


    “If the child tries to forgive immediately, but does not seem to do so cheerfully, would you counsel the child that he or she should feel guilty for not being more like Christ?”


    You make the fallacious assumption that what you would counsel someone in a position of guidance or help is the same as the conclusions you would reach about the subject in a classroom. As a student of ethics, there are plenty of things I think are right or wrong that I would never imagine telling someone to do or not do. In my comments, I’m not discussing methods of treatment. I have said nothing of the treatment or responses to those with illnesses, or any other problems, and I will say nothing of it. I have no opinion on the subject that’s any different than any doctor.

  85. Everyone,

    I think there’s another fallacy in thinking that many commenters in this post appear to be making about sympathy and compassion, and that I encounter quite often in discussions of this nature. Allow me to provide an example, not perfectly congruous to the situation, but good enough for the moment.

    Suppose you know someone who, after a life of smoking, has lung cancer. I believe this person ought to be treated with the utmost love and compassion. Indeed, no differently than a person with any other type of cancer. Would you tell the person, “It’s your own fault.”? Absolutely not. You probably would never even mention the smoking.

    However, if in the forum of a blog or message board, someone claims that there is no relationship between smoking and lung cancer, well, I’m going to disagree. And I don’t believe that a voiced disagreement on that issue either constitutes or endorses a lack of sympathy for those with lung cancer.

    An article discussing the causes of lung cancer and the treatment of lung cancer are two completely different things. Different in content, approach, method of inquiry, and probably even different in tone. Likewise, a philosophical discussion of the causes of mental abnormalities, or the psychosocial nature of these problems, is an entirely different discussion than the discussion of the treatment of such problems – particularly treatment by non-professionals. When we begin to mix these topics, as we’ve done in this thread, then there are going to be problems.

    If it was Ronan’s intention to discuss only the way in which the average member ought to respond to people with a mental illness, then I apologize and will withdraw from the conversation. Because my opinion on that subject is no different than anyone else’s. In fact, given the fact that I’m just about the only person here who believes that loving the way Christ loved is both possible and normative, my argument on behalf of love and compassion for those with mental illnesses is actually going to be stronger than anyone else’s. :)

  86. No, stick around Eric! Yours are perfectly civil and interesting comments.

  87. Artemis,
    You’re right, I read much more into your comment than was actually there. I didn’t intend to attribute that line of thought to you. I think it’s something that crops up from time to time in Mormon culture, especially in the reasoning of someone with depression. The reasoning takes the same form as the following: “wickedness never was happiness, therefore if you’re not happy, you’re wicked.” Not logically valid, and definitely not true. But all this might go under Eric’s heading ‘potential contributions to depression’ and not ‘how to treat (love) someone with depression’…Although, it may be well to be sure to avoid using this fallacious reasoning ourselves when interacting with someone with mental illness.

  88. Where do we put Autistic people in this?

    I had an autistic YM for a while. He struggled and struggled. Some of his issues were similar to those of my mentally ill kids. We had a real struggle with him for awhile. Crying on campouts etc. Sometimes he would seem normal and then breakdown. I almost could not tell the difference between his symptoms and my other two mentally ill kids at the time.

    Again, His parents took solace in the atonement that one day he would rise from the dead perfect. So do I. That is why I love Jesus.

  89. Thanks Eric.

  90. Autism is not a mental illness, it’s a neurological disorder, although it can mimic some of the mood disorders in some kids. With autism often comes anxiety, OCD, and many have bipolar. Those are all comorbid with the autism, not defining of it.

    That said, dealing with autism in church-related subjects is really identical as dealing mental illness. You need understanding, training, patience, and guide from the Lord.

  91. Sarebear said

    I hope you didn’t intend to imply that the mentally ill who are not taking meds and/or getting help, are “choosing” not to, are “choosing” wrong, instead of right. It isn’t always accessible.

    No, I certainly wasn’t trying to imply that those who cannot afford, or are otherwise unable to get help are choosing wrong. I was mainly trying to say that agency isn’t removed, but the nature of the choice and the amount of control the individual has is changed. The choice is no longer made in the moment of action, instead it’s made in the prevention of the situation, which is a very different and often limited kind of choice.
    In your situation (as I understand it) the ability you have to get help is limited by the cost. In my Dad’s case he can afford the drugs and the counseling. If he decides to stop taking his pills because he doesn’t want to anymore (which he has done once or twice) he remains fully responsible for the mean things he says and does.

    I hope your application is approved. The mild depression I’ve experienced isn’t fun and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I can’t imagine how horrible a full blown case might be.

  92. The distinction between neurological disorder and mental illness seems a difficult one. Personally I think we’d all do better if we got rid of the term mental illness and just spoke of neurological disorders. That’d put the emphasis on the brain, not the mind, and perhaps avoid some of the excesses of psycho-analysis that are still on-going.

  93. I had a moderate case of depression. I think I’ve mostly recovered.

    One helpful comment that many people made during my struggle still bothers me. When I talked about how impossible it was for me to feel the spirit, or any kind of spiritually encouraging emotion, people would reply that mental illness is a chemical issue, and that those emotions were blocked by chemical imbalances. While that may very well be true, I thought it sounded like a cop-out.

    “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, distress or persecution or famine or nakedness, or peril or sword . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39.

    A God who can’t punch through a minor chemical imbalance to reassure a suffering child who is crying for help isn’t as powerful as the God that I grew up believing in. My experience with depression changed my view of God – not of his mercy or power, but of his omniscience. He was gone while I was hurting, and I can’t bring myself to excuse him because he was powerless against my mental illness episode. If someone can be comforted during chemotherapy, or the death of a loved one, or any number of other purely physical sufferings, why couldn’t he reach me? I wanted him to.

    I’m probably not saying it very well. But I don’t trust him to catch me when I fall the way I used to trust him. That’s not quite right either, because depression actually deepened my belief in God’s love and the necessity of the Atonement.

    I’m confused, and my faith has a lot more rough spots to it than it used to.

  94. Melinda,
    Thanks for sharing. That truly is a serious struggle that many people face.

  95. I am quite disappointed to read here how many of my fellow church members view mental illness, when so many of their fellow Saints suffer from such maladies. It is obvious from the comments of several individuals here that people really, truly do not understand the utter desperation faced by those struggling with mental illness. It exacerbates the problem, in my eyes.

    That said, I am grateful for the commenter who quoted from Alma 7. That scripture is very meaningful, and while it does not cure a chemical imbalance or make the one suffering from such a malady feel any less depressed or anxious, it does render comfort to have faith in a Savior who *really, really* does understand the hell of mental illness, and who does not just expect that everyone has the same experience in life and can just suddenly buck up and “cheerfully perform” every duty.

    It is comforting to know that, unlike many of our fellow Latter-day Saints (evidenced from the discussion here), our Savior has perfect compassion and empathy with the mentally ill.

    Ronan: this post has been excellent, and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to write such an excellent essay. I look forward to the rest of the series. Thanks!

  96. Jeannie Lilleaard says:


    Very interesting reading, and quite informative. One of my problems has been that I have been diagnosed with a bipolar illness for many years..But, here I am a very intelligent Mormon woman…temple worthy…with a mental illness..I read my scriptures, lived a worthy life, read my Book of Mormon…did everything…I helped my son, loved everyone…..and then decided that I had to do more to prove that I am worthy..So, I decided to move to Texas to take care of my mother who had a stroke. I then proceeded to have a manic attack, and went on a shopping spree during a summer, and ended up spending a lot of my families money…Only because I listened to my bishop and went to a church counsellor, who prescribed prayer, some behavior modification, and the counselled me three more times and kicked me off..He said that he could only do bandaid therapy, and the bishop would follow up. I did not have insurance, so meds were out of the picture, because my husband was unemployed..With a sick wife..So, now here I am..a criminal…and alienated from my family..My mom died without anyone contacting me.

    I then became angry, and took things into my own hands..I went to a doctor, and got treated…I cannot believe that I did the things I did..I am a good person…with all the resources in the church…But, everyone thinks I am a troubled soul. I am very strong, but when the demon raises its head, I have been mad…Madness is the keyword. I am happy that I have the non member support group that I do..Because one of these days I will have to face my Heavenly Father, and say that I did what I could to overcome..and I succeeded.
    If I dont succkeed, will I be less of a Mormon? Will I be unworthy to inherit the CK..Thanks

  97. Jeannie Lilleaard says:

    Oh, I wanted to let you know also, that my sister hates me, my brother hates me….I have told them that I would pay restitution…and they have just told me to stay away. My sister, I believe has manic depressive illness, because she spent two summers doing phone sex from my apartment, and she also spent money that dad did not authorize..So, here I am alienated from my family…loved and revered by my non member friends for accepting responsibility for what I have done….But hated by my Mormon family…I wish I still had my fathers love..But, I know my HF loves me.


  98. Jeannie! I so know where you are coming from, at least as much as another bipolar person can.

    I actually despair of ever getting to the temple, because I’m not able to consistently get to church because I am just so empty of resources after all the internal FIGHTING I have to do just to make sure my daughter gets the necessities taken care of. Some might judge and say you have to FIGHT yourself inside to get that done? I love her, and of course have motherly instincts. But mental illness . . . . you spend so much energy, mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, on all the things you have to fight through just to do ANYTHING, that it exhausts you, in all those ways.

    If you ever want to talk, let me know. My email is in my profile at my blog, which you can click on my name to get to. I called it Pie-Bolar w/3 Servings of Anksia Tea, for, well, obvious reasons. Lol!

    I am so sorry that your family has hurt you in this way.

  99. Jeannie Lillegaard says:


    The last comment was nice, but my mental illness has hurt my family to a great extent. I knew something was wrong, but by the time I realized it, then it was just too late. I had done the damage, and will spend months, and perhaps years cleaning up the messes…This one I cannot clean up….I can repent, get on my meds, and keep on trucking. My problem was admitting that I need help…The feelings of power, the feelings of grandiose, the feelings that I could do anyting…To put it bluntly, everything from food to sex, to shopping is more pleasureable. It is a pitiful disease, and alienates a lot of people…I have had several people walk out because of my illness, and truthfully I cannot blame them. I have an exceptional husband, and I am very blessed…I just wish I had been diagnosed 40 years ago, before I got the reputation of being a compulsive and promiscuous teenager…I was the one who got knocked up in high school. The one who lied all the time, and who went out the windows, and felt very much like dirt..even when I was a pretty teenager. It is sad that I wasnt treated back in the 60s.

  100. Oh goodness. I hope my comment didn’t offend you.

    If my family knew some of the things I had done . . . . let me tell you, I’d possibly not have them either, not that we’re very close at all anyway. I can’t even bring myself to type two very general categories for some of the things I’ve done, and do, actually three, that you list in yours. I can’t even approach that . . . I feel very ill at the thought of the things I’ve done, and do, and the worries about doing extremely reprehensible things again. I just . . . I can’t accept that that was ME, who did that. Those. Stuff. Things.

    The feelings of power, the feelings of grandiose, the feelings that I could do anyting…

    Yeah. I had an extremely high mania in mid-October, and I laid back and enjoyed the feelings and sensations, and my ologist, as I call him, told me, yeah, you were High. I haven’t asked him what he meant by that, but it wasn’t, yeah, you were manic, we had already discussed that. It was “high” in the sense that a junkie gets high. Because I had discussed feeling guilty about enjoying like I imagine a junkie enjoys their “high”. Feeling like you could literally do ANYTHING. Consequences? No such word or meaning in that state.

    Heck, just the HUGE amount of guilt I have about laying back and enjoying it, horrifies me.


  101. Clark, I don’t know about putting the “emphasis on the brain, not the mind.” Cognitivists — and empiricists in general (not to mention drug companies) — would like us to believe that it’s all brain chemistry when it comes to mental illness, but the research just doesn’t quite take us that far. Mental illness and psychology are extremely complex, and I think we get into real trouble if we start downplaying “the mind.”

    By the way, what “excesses of psycho-analysis” are you talking about? Are we talking the usual different-school-of-thought quibbles with depth psychology (or did you mean “psychotherapy?”), or are you trying to belittle psychologists in general?

    Sorry to get a bit huffy. I do think, however, that comments like your last one, although perhaps interesting in terms of scholarly discussion, contribute to a delegitimization of the mental illnesses we’re discussing.

  102. Jeannie Lillegaard says:


    I am not in the least bit offended, Sarebear..I appreciate your thoughts, and you are entitled to express them. But, I just want you to know that I have a real problem with the things I have done.
    Maybe I am not the intelectual equal of some of you. All I know is that I feel guilty for using my bipolar illness as an excuse for my behavior. I know myself, and know that if I had not had a manic episode, I would not have gone through 20,000 dollars in a summer. That is what I think…I hate people who say…I was depressed and did this…I am the first to say…Own your own problems…Control yourself. But, because of my religious belief…living with this type of problem is very hard to admit. I remember thinking several years back..If I would just read my scriptures, and do 6 sessions a week in the temple…then my life would be healed…Well, guess what, people…I sat in the celestial room in the midst of a manic high, and the temple session I had just gone through exacerbated my manic episode…I have been blessed greatly in this life..I have a beautiful family, a beautiful new grandson, and my ETC was behind me all the way. But, I still had bipolar illness. I was led to believe my whole life, from the time I was three years old and given my first bridal Barbie, that I had to have a perfect marriage. When my life, my illness, my marriage becomes unbearable, it is not alright. I live with nothing but perfect expectations of myself. I wasnt born with perfect genes, and now, that I am fifty something I can recognize my triggers, and hopefully I will be able to seat belt myself in, and ride my illness through, with a loving support system, which I feel like I can finally ask for.

    Why do Mormon women and men just hold their problems in?..Why do I have to be the perfect wife, mother, caregiver, etc. Why couldnt I just say NO

  103. Well, I do accept that it was me, that did them, in the sense that I accept responsibility for my actions when I return to a state where I can do so. But aside from that, accepting that it was me that did them, is a horse of a different color.

    I wish there was something I could say to express how much I sense your pain and frustration.

  104. Jeannie Lillegaard says:

    It is nice to find someone who really understands … and a safe place to express feelings…And, just knowing that others experience the same type of pain and frustration is more than enough for me.

    I wish you well, and one thing that you can be rest assured about is that I am finally in a state that I can finally heal myself emotionally…and become stronger

  105. Jeannie Lillegaard says:


    I havent checked in for a couple of days, but I want to try a little honesty here….Honesty within myself. One thing about my situation is that I beat myself up because of my illness…My therapist told me that my responsibility is to accept what I can do…ie…stay on meds, stick with therapy..Own my problems. But, he pointed something out to me today that I havent thought about ever…and that is this: When my sister told me to stay away, then got mad at me for not knowing of my moms death: and the fact that my family did not notify me even when they knew my email address, that it is not my fault. He also told me that the issue of my mothers death, and the fact that I have a mode disorder two different issues. Didnt I derserve to be informed? ARent I entitled to grieve> He informed me that this is crazy and not to live in a soap opera world..NOt to deal with my families disfunction. Just to deal with my own…Actually, I felt that my disfunction was wrapped up in my family.

    So, today, I have to say to anyone who will listen…In my family and out..I am sorry that I could not fulfill my contract of taking care of my father and mother, and protecting their assets. I am sorry that I did not do a job. And, I am learning a lesson…From now on if my sister, or anyone else asks me to take on too much stress…..I am sorry, the answer is NO.. I cannot do anything except take care of myself when I am fragile. I am not obligated to make things up to her. That is between my Heavenly Father and I.

    At least he hasnt turned his back on this Crazy person…

  106. I am glad that he hasn’t turned his back on this crazy person, either. And my husband, to put up with so much . . .

    I was recently introduced to the idea as well to not get caught up in family drama; to separate myself from it, and not feel responsibility for it. Easier said than done . . . Well, when the person who creates the most family drama, is doing it in MY face, to ME, it’s rather hard to avoid. So we’re discussing that.

    Anyway, at the risk of possibly making too personal of a comment, I would agree that it is not your fault (not that my opinion matters, but I thought I’d offer it as support). You deserved to be notified.

    Please do continue to respect your humanness, your limits, your struggles, yourself, and keep with it. I am struggling myself, with fighting the horriffic fear I feel at facing things, at opening up the door to that dark basement of my soul. It’s full of spiders, and worse, and I hate spiders. Even metaphorical ones!

    I am glad that I was able to express myself effectively and let you know that I cared and stuff.

    If you want to talk, my email is in my profile at

    Feel free to come on by my blog there, anytime you like. I discuss my struggles there, frequently, in the hopes that more people will be able to see what it is like, and maybe understand a glimmer of what it is like.

  107. I’m new to this blog and with some reticence I feel compelled join in on the discussion. My wife suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. She was recently diagnosed from a psychotic episode that happened in August. The initial diagnosis was post partum psychosis, but after a few months, and a few different doctors, the diagnosis has changed. Our bishop soon realized he was in over his head and called LDS Social services when my wife’s symptoms first appeared. They suggested professional help. The story of what happened next is not really appropriate for the comments section but, our ward has been been great and so has LDS social services for that matter. My bishop knows that my wife can’t help herself and more importantly that he does not have the skill set to help her in any way other than as a spiritual leader. I’m so grateful that as these mental health challenges have grown in my life, so has the church’s awareness of this problem.

  108. I need a bit of advice on dealing with a relative who has depression. She’s functional – she holds down a full-time job and lives with roommates. She has been on all sorts of different meds. A couple of times she has tried therapy. I would talk to her about therapy, and she didn’t mind keeping me updated. However, I got frustrated with her. She would say things like, “he wants me to keep track of when I start feeling bad,” and “I’m supposed to write down activities I enjoy,” then she would tell me she wouldn’t do any of that because it was too much like homework. She didn’t like having to do anything between therapy sessions. I asked her if she expected just an hour a week with to cure her without her making any effort at any other time, and she said yes.

    I dropped the conversation at that point because I thought nagging her would be counter-productive. Shortly after, she quit therapy because she said it wasn’t doing her any good (roll eyes here, of course it wasn’t doing her any good because she wasn’t doing anything!).

    Why would someone who is sick decide to be lazy about letting someone help her? Is there anything I could have said that would have been helpful? We ended on a friendly note because I dropped it; giving her advice is often counter-productive.

    I had my own bout with moderate depression, and I was pretty active in trying to find ways to help myself (as much as you can be when depressed, anyway). I read books on cognitive behavior therapy, and did several things I thought would help me. I can’t understand why my sister won’t work at getting better, or at least getting her depression under control. I understand depression saps your motivation, but from what she said, she was just lazy about it, not sunk in depressive inertia.

    Any thoughts?

  109. I know my psychologist has suggestions for “homework”, but if I don’t do them, and/or aren’t up enough to do them that week, struggling just to BE, he is very understanding. They are suggestions, but not requirements. Obviously doing them will be helpful, but if the person can just be encouraged to go to therapy, perhaps in time they will understand that more can be done to help things along, from time to time, even if it is only rarely that they are able to summon up the motivation to do so.

    Love them and accept them even if they don’t go to therapy; let them know you love them no matter what, but gently and quietly and kindly suggest therapy, and suggest that even if they are not motivated to do the “homework”, put it more as, motivated to follow through on the therapists suggestions (they are not requirements, just suggestions), and that she can even discuss her feelings about feeling ordered, controlled, put into a structure of homework that feels binding, she can discuss that with the therapist, and still not feel as though she has to do x, y, z things that he suggests in between sessions.

    If she knows that it is OK to just BE, and go to therapy . . . I know that alot goes on in my mind, internally, between sessions. I can’t speak for her, though, but just GOING, and becoming comfortable with the therapist, and just talking, is a GOOD THING. It can take a LONG TIME for a trust to build between a client and therapist. IT really can. She may not trust his motivations behind the “homework” suggestions; she may be pushing back against feeling bossed around, as I do sometimes; I can’t say, of course, for her, but just gently and quietly support her, and encourage her to just GO, because it can’t hurt. And let her know that it is ok to just get whatever she gets out of therapy, even if it’s just venting for an hour a week. It is okay to say ANYTHING in therapy.

    It also could be possible that this therapist wasn’t the right fit, for her, and perhaps you could help her research a better fit? I have some links to questions to ask potential therapists, in this thread at a Bird’s Eye View.

    I hope I’ve been of help.

    I am in serious emotional distress today, myself, and feeling extremely isolated and alone. A reading of today’s blog post by me, and the little post-it pad down the side, will kind of illustrate some of what’s going on.

    I need . . . to feel valued as a human being, I guess. I need to feel a human connection and caring, without judgement. I need . . . . to . . . I just . . . well I need to quit crying right now, is what I need. Lol. I . . . need people. I need . . . well, geez, I sound needy.

    Sorry. I . . . am hurting so bad, and wondering what good there is in me, anymore.

    I hope I’ve been of assistance, to you.

  110. Melinda, obviously there is no easy answer. If there were, it would be widely published and widely known. One of the fundamental aspects of depression, I believe, is the belief that you are absolutely powerless over your condition. If someone believes that they have control over their condition, then I would submit that they are sad or down, but not really depressed. As such, depression is something that, by its very definition, resists the notion of real help or advice.

    An individual has to truly want change, and you can’t make someone want something they don’t want. You can’t make someone believe something they don’t want to believe. If people won’t respond to help then there is no formula for success. Indeed, thinking of it in terms of formulas or to do lists is part of the problem itself. People don’t respond to help, they respond to love.

    I realize that, in the brevity of the comment, none of this really makes sense. But here’s my response in a single line: as long as one’s love is genuine, the actual techniques that one uses in helping another are largely irrelevant. There is no roadmap back to normality, no directions that you can give. Nothing you can say that will convince them that change is possible. You can only love someone into discovering the possibility for themselves.

    From the ever wise Wizard of Oz,

    Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?

    You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

    I have?

    Then why didn’t you tell her before?

    Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

  111. Anon for this topic says:


    One of the effects of depression is that it is so hard to do ANYTHING, let alone do anything extra. It saps all a person’s strength and energy.

    There have been periods in our marriage where my wife has gone for weeks without even getting showered and dressed unless she had a medical appointment. Wasn’t going shopping, to church, to dinner, movies, anything. She only ate meals that I made, so if I couldn’t come home for lunch, she wouldn’t eat until I got off work and made dinner. Would things have been better if she did the homework her counselor asked her to? Of course.

    Then there are times when the depression breaks, and we live a relatively normal life. It is day by day for both of us, just like it probably is for you and your sister.

    But it is hard, so we have a hard time making and keeping friends. I’ve had several people tell me they still love us, but it is too hard to give the help we need. Sometimes I wish they would ask themselves if it is so hard for them, how hard is it for me? Sure it is hard to be the friend of somebody who is battling severe depression, but every hour my wife spends with a friend is an hour I can take a break. In a way, it feels like hospice. I can’t have a bad day, because then she blames herself for my bad day. I also can’t have a good day, because I feel guilty about feeling good when she is hurting so badly. The best any of us can do is the best we can do.

    Didn’t mean to do such a long post, but Christmas is always a rough time. And frankly, I don’t have that many outlets.

  112. Jeannie Lillegaard says:


    This has been a hard week for me. I am looking for a new therapist. It is so hard because I want to find someone good, but it is hard for me to trust. My moms death has been pretty devastating to me, and to top all that off, my dog had puppies and ended up losing two of them…I am pretty upset, because she went through such a bad time, and I was sleeping and did not even wake up. It is soooo cold here…It is about 10 above with the wind chill factor here…What is happening here…lol…It never gets so cold here.

    I am just rattling I know..but just wanted to touch bases.
    Take care everyone.

  113. Merry Christmas, Jeannie! I hope you find a good therapist you can trust. Mine has been a godsend (literally, I feel the Lord had a hand in our meeting). I am SO sorry for the loss of your puppies. That is a sad thing, at any time of the year.

    I hope the holidays and New Year see better things for you.

  114. Jeannie Lillegaard says:


    I wanted to say something…..When I was very depressed, I took my little poodles on my lap, and said….Fonzie, Trinket…tell me I am worth loving…And, they both would attack me with kisses, and adoring looks. They are a blessing to me…I feel that my little Trinket is a guardian angel of some sort..I know that sounds ridiculous, but I feel it is true. What a bunch of mush, but they are very dear to my heart..

    Anyway, Christmas is hard to say the least, and to make it worse, my other half had to work. So, here I am alone, as usual…My family is not present. I am thinking about Sacrament meeting, but that is something I do not enjoy anymore. So, I have to force myself to enjoy life. I did not do any Christmas shopping, and am still trying to get settled in my new home. It is disturbing, because financially we cannot afford to buy a home that I am accustomed to..But, we purchased a mobile home in a local park..So, we are trying to make the best of it. I am not a high maintenance woman this Chrismas season…Did not buy one thing, except my Grandsons Christmas present…I am taking him out to Dennys to eat…What a change..We may even send out for pizza.

    My son has the other grandchild is in Pennsylvania, and I cannot talk to him because of his mom is trying to keep him from his dad….because of the divorce..So, it is not the happiest of days…But, the good news is they have medication adjusted, and I know what I am doing, and the dark cloud is beginning to lift .. There is a light at the end of the tunnel…And, now I am in my home praying…So, here is my Christmas prayer.

    Dear Heavenly Father,

    I am so grateful this day to be breathing this beautiful valley air, and I am grateful for the friendship of my neighbors who seem to look after me everytime my family is gone. I Thank thee for my many blessings. I have the blessing of my health, and the blessing of love in my life. After 35 years, my eternal companion still cares about me..And, that is a great blessing. I am grateful to thee for providing for my special needs.

    I am asking thee to be with my friends who are having a struggle. There is so much sadness with the hurricane…I am thankful that I had so many friends whose lives were spared during Katrina.. Please bless them and keep them and give them peace. Please Heavenly Father, take away the tears of my best friend Deborah, and my good friend Luanna. Send them the resources they need to find a home and to take care of their families. There is so much heartache during this holiday season, and it has taught so many of us not to take for granted the simple things in life. I appreciated my hot shower this morning, after talking to my friend Luanna.

    I am grateful for the fullness of the Gospel, and again I am grateful for the grace and understanding that is in my life.

    I leave my prayer with you in the name of Jesus Christ,


  115. I have found Christmas to be a very hard time of the year, every year. There are a few families who are without their scars, but I believe the holidays are basically more stressful than they are joyful.

    I think part of this is the raised expectations of lovely experiences we see on TV, or just assume others are having.

    This year I tried really hard to let go of expectations, very hard to do. I so want the old vision of family I used to treasure on the Donna Reed show. But I told myself over and over to lighten up and take things as they came. It’s harder almost because my hsband has had good Christmas experiences as a child and he can’t relate to my apathy.

    It was a little better this year, actually, nobody fought, hey, how can you lose with that? But I am so grateful Christmas is over.

    Anon, I recommend Al-Anon. There is a very good on-line Al-Anon called Key to Harmony. For reasons of courtesy, you shouldn’t “qualify” yourself because of your wife’s mental illness, although, it is possible that a problem of alcoholism or addiction is in your picture. I can’t remember the details of your story. It would just be good manners in sharing your story.

    You know, this is getting too long. e-mail me if you’d like

    Al-Anon helps with detaching with love, letting go and supporting those who are dealing with problems in the home. It’s a very commpassionate approach.

    Another really really hard thing for me is dealing with depression as a member of the church. It seems like a betrayal of my faith. I fight that conclusion with all I’ve got because in the long run it’s more discouraging than encouraging. The idea that if you are faithful you shouldn’t be depressed or discouraged, that is.

    Sorry so long.

    This is an important topic for church members.

  116. Anon for this topic says:

    Thank you for your kind words. Neither addiction nor alcoholism is involved. Her illness is the result of prolonged, repeated trauma while growing up. Christmas is usually hard for her, since she is dealing with (or rather, not dealing with) the memory of our son who was born two days prior and died on Christmas day 17 years ago. This is also her first Christmas without either of her parents; her father died in 2005 and her mother in 2004. She has yet to really learn that you can remember and honor those who have passed without being overwhelmed by grief. You can give up the pain without giving up the memory.
    I think I could use something like Al-Anon. thanks for the tip.

  117. Oh, Anon, hon, I think you are the one who has yet to learn. The death of your child on Christmas and the loss of her parents puts her depression in perspective for me. You never get over losing a child. She’s had a lot of loss in the deaths of her parents. I lost a two year old 30 years ago and I can cry at the drop of a hat if I let myself go there. I know women in their 80’s who still mourn babies.

    Her surrender to grief, is, in my opinion, normal, not a sign of mental illness. It would be abnormal if she didn’t fall apart at a time like this.

    Perhaps someday she can feel peace and warmth at Christmas, but the death of her child on that day, I can’t see it. I don’t blame her. Not a bit.

    No, No, I don’t believe you can give up the pain. You can go on, you can find joy and serenity, moments of bliss, but it never stops hurting. Not in my experience.

    I don’t want to add to your burden, but if you are telling her these things, it is probably making it worse, not better. Men want to fix, men tend to grieve, and get on with the task. Women, no. I would say right now she needs to be validated, completely, not encouraged. If she doesn’t grieve wholly now, it will only prolong the agony.

    Hope that helps, I do not mean to make it worse for you at all, but your sharing of these events puts her depression in a much clearer perspective.

  118. Anon for this topic says:


    The grief isn’t the mental illness–the illness is from the abuse she suffered growing up. The grief just pushed her coping skills beyond what she could handle this year. One or the other, and she could probably have been okay–it is the combination that nearly did her in.

    I remember, and I grieve. I lit a candle in our son’s memory that I let burn until it burned out. A small reminder of his too-brief flame of life. But I believe that our loved ones on the other side would want us to press forward in faith, and not let their passing destroy any hope we have for happiness in life on this side of the veil.

  119. You’re right, of course. How sad for both of you. I would assume that her childhood abuse makes the traumas today that much harder to handle. I feel that way. I’m better than I was, but for a long time, I thought God had it in for me.

    I apologize for not considering your feelings as well.

  120. David W. Olsen says:

    The Problem With Over Analyzing Mental Illness

    Hi, I am an active follower of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I also have a mental illness which I have known about most of my life. I want to pass along to others my perspective of being an active follower of Jesus and at the same time my having the great challange of also having a mental illness.

    My experience of having a mental illness for most of my adult life and being a member of the Lord’s true church is that I have spent too much time analyzing every little bit of my entire existance and experiences in this life. I personally believe that the words and teachings of God that are contained in the Book of Mormon and the other Standard Works tell us the ways we can implement the peace of Christ in our lives. It appears so decisive to me that Christ’s peace, rather than worldly solutions to mental illness, is the best method to curb the onslaught of the terrible symptoms of depression and other symptoms of specific mental illnesses.

    But I want to clarify that there is a diversity of the serverity that each person who has a mental illness. From my personal experience with mental illness, I believe there exist some Latter-Day Saints who truly have a chemical imbalance in the way their brain functions incorrectly who become very confused with a variety of issues concerning their relationship with God, Christ, and the their place as members of the Lord’s true church. I have observed how some, including myself at times, spend too much time attempting to decide how their actual mental illness, their spirituality, their membership in the LDS church, and even what kind of help their bishop may be able to offer them.

    Many times I believe we overlook our Savior Jesus Christ and the simplicity of coming unto Him in prayer in humility and with our deepest desire to receive His peace and mercy. I truly believe Christ’s simplicity is by far the way, the truth, and the light when compared to even professional counseling. Afterall, isn’t our Jesus the greatest counselor ever? Please think about that.

    In addition, I believe those of us who are on medications for mental illness that we absolutely maintain that wise practice everyday.

    A concerned Latter-Day Saint

  121. “S” at ZD continues the discussion. Worth a look: “Mood Disorders and the Spirit.”

  122. David, I think your observations are quite profound.

    I remember reading in the Ensign once some advice urging a little insensitivity in marriage, just enough to shake things off. Sort of the same vein.


  1. […] Well things have been slow around BT this last week or two. Everyone’s busy with finals, holidays or trying to get things finalized for the end of quarter at work. However there were quite a few good science related discussions. I’ll start with today’s post at BCC on mental illness. It gets into a few topics we’ve discussed here before related to what our embodiment is like, how grace overcomes the fall, and of course the ever popular topic of free will. However they are also trying to get at the more practical and less theological issues. Check it out as it has been a good discussion. […]

  2. […] I was inspired to write and make this post because of the series over at By Common Consent on Mormons and Mental Illness. […]

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