Review: Matters of the Mind: Latter-day Saint Helps for Mental Health

Got SAD?

Matters of the Mind: Latter-day Saint Helps for Mental Health (Ed. Marleen S. Williams, W. Dean Belnap, John P. Livingstone) gives an overview of just about every mental health issue one could think of, including diagnoses, various treatments, and spiritual supports. The key word here is “overview.” As a general reference on mental health, it is an excellent place for Latter-day Saints to start, though it does not offer (or attempt) in-depth treatment of any particular problem. Given the impressive breadth of information here, I reckon the target audience is anyone who is currently dealing with mental illness personally, or who knows someone dealing with mental illness. It is also a great resource for anyone who might eventually have to deal with such situations, as there is much helpful information on recognizing symptoms of various illnesses, as well as tips on how to help (and, just as important, how not to help). In other words, it is a book for everyone!

The first few chapters explain what mental illness is and how our brains work. One chapter is devoted to treating mental illness with medication, and how different medications work on different parts of the brain. There is also a chapter on finding the right therapist. Then we dive into the murky waters of how mental illness relates to spirituality and vice versa. This is the part where your mileage may most vary. The chapter entitled “Mental Illness and Spirituality,” written by editors Williams and Belnap, is an eloquent variation on “sometimes bad things happen to good people.” Timothy B. Smith’s chapter on “Spiritual Sources of Support for Emotional Distress” is nicely written and says a whole bunch of things that are true; the usefulness of those truths will depend largely on the state of mind of the individual reader. In a fit of wellness, one is more receptive to messages about forgiveness and self-reliance. Perhaps more useful is the chapter that follows, which is simply a list of Latter-day Saint resources and reference materials, from the Topical Guide to Ensign articles to internet sites. Well, I call it more useful, but maybe only for those people with the energy to look up their own information and draw their own conclusions. I still think it looks like a pretty handy list.

Of course, no one will need all of the pages here—at least I hope not. The middle section of the book is devoted to explaining the different types of mental illnesses and disorders, including anxiety disorders (e.g. phobias, obsessive-compulsiveness), mood disorders (e.g. depression, bipolar illness), cognitive disorders (e.g. dementia, brain injury, epilepsy), psychotic disorders (e.g. schizophrenia), eating disorders (e.g. anorexia, bulimia), and mental disabilities such as autism, ADHD and mental retardation. Having such breadth of knowledge at one’s fingertips would be most useful for leaders (who would theoretically be most likely to come in contact with a number of these problems), but it is pretty interesting stuff anyway. It talks about the causes and treatments of each disorder, but also what it’s like for a person to have that particular disorder. It offers suggestions for helping yourself if you have the disorder, or alternatively, for helping someone else who has the disorder. (Here’s where the handy lists of What Not To Say to a Mentally Ill Person come in. Recommended reading for all.)

This middle section also deals with the issue of gender as it relates to mental health. “Men, Masculinity and Depression” (A. Dean Byrd) and “Women and Depression” (Christine S. Packard and Wendy Ulrich) make an interesting study of the different ways men and women are affected by and deal with depression and the social implications for each sex. There is a separate chapter on mental health and the female reproductive cycle.

The final section, “Coping with Mental Illness,” addresses legal issues and the effects of mental illness on families, as well as learning from experiences with mental illness. Mary Ellen Smoot contributes a chapter on caring for someone with dementia (in her case, her sister). This is not Chicken Soup for the Schizophrenic’s Soul, but it is compassionate and reality-based perspective, which is always helpful.

Matters of the Mind is an accessible, concise volume that de-mystifies mental illness and the social and religious stigma surrounding it. It’s a good book for bishops and other church leaders, a good book for lending. It belongs in your church library—if people use your church library.


  1. I can’t help but wonder…How would this book approach someone like Joseph Smith. Voices, visions, prophecies (not all of which met expectations), and all atop a very human person.

  2. X (Adam Greenwood, his mark) says:

    Thanks, Fawn Brodie.

  3. Where can I get chickensoup for the Schizophrenic’s soul? It sounds like a good read. {g}

  4. Rebecca, for means of Comparisson, for someone dealing with mental illnesses in a classroom setting at church, would you say the book is more, less, or equally as useful as the information available via the church website?

  5. I was actually surprised to learn they haven’t published one yet.

  6. Matt W. – I would say it is more useful, certainly, because it contains more specific information and goes into more detail. Obviously, if you are looking to become an expert on a particular condition, you are going to need to read other books that focus on that subject. This book doesn’t focus on any ONE illness or condition, but there is still a lot of useful information about each illness in there, specifically what it is like to have depression or schizophrenia or an eating disorder, etc.–that’s just outside the scope of the church website. The section about how the brain works and how psychotropic medications work is especially helpful, I think.

  7. I’d also be interested to know how this compares to Alexander Morrison’s book. Have you read it?

  8. Unfortunately, I haven’t read Elder Morrison’s book (Valley of Sorrow, also by Deseret). From what little information I’ve been able to gather about his book, I guess that it is written from a more personal, less clinical perspective. It might be more geared toward helping people find spiritual comfort. (Again, I’m just guessing.) I would say Matters of the Mind is relatively light on the spiritual perspectives, heavier on the clinical–though it is certainly also accessible, in my opinion, and written for the layperson.

  9. Thanks for the review, Rebecca. I find the continuing evolution of the Church’s perspective on mental illness very encouraging.

  10. J., I agree. Although I found the article in the January Ensign to be a bit of a step (maybe half a step) back.

  11. StillConfused says:

    Does this book address how a person’s view of religion can also be a factor in mental illness? I come across a number of individuals in my charity who have allowed, either by themselves or others, the LDS religion to be used as an abusive tool, to control, manipulate, tear down or damage. This appears to be a problem with both genders.

  12. StillConfused (11) – This topic is addressed only obliquely. It talks about various myths and misconceptions that LDS people have about mental illness, e.g. sin causes mental illness, faith can cure it, etc. It also talks about abuse and cognitive distortions (overgeneralizing, emotional reasoning, etc.); in the chapter on women and depression, there is a brief discussion of how certain religious beliefs can be complicated by abuse or distorted by an individual with mental illness. But that is about the extent of it.

  13. StillConfused says:

    #12. Thanks. If anyone knows of any books that address how a person’s view of religion can also be a factor in mental illness, I would be interested.

  14. I am curious as to why epilepsy would be included in a book about mental illness.

  15. When I read about this book my question is why not just go to a clinical text by an non-mormon expert? I’m sure there are great and informative types of books like this put out by the APA or another publisher. If a person has difficulty contextualizing mental illness with belief their system can’t go to a church web-site, ensign articles or LDS social services?

  16. sorry confusing at the end.
    “with their belief system can’t they go”

  17. 13. Valley of Sorrow hits similar points as Rebecca describes in her comment (12). I’ve found the myths and misconceptions section helpful in a variety of situations, but the book is intended for laypeople not professionals.

  18. Ryan (15) – Well, you could do all those things. Or you could read this book. I mean, this particular publication isn’t going to change my life, but for some it might be the right book at the right time. I need to emphasize that the book IS written for laypeople, and while there is less spiritual perspective than I had originally anticipated, it’s certainly there and in one handy volume with your medical info, too. Again, this could be most useful for a bishop (or similar church leader) who has to deal with these issues indirectly but desires a better understanding of the complexities involved.

    Nora (14) – Epilepsy and other neurological disorders are included because they affect cognition and behavior, but they are not given the same attention that mental illnesses get. They’re included, in part, to differentiate them from mental illness.

  19. Thanks for the explanation. This book sounds as if it would be a valuable resource, but not necessarily the only thing you will ever need to read on the subject.

  20. Seems to me that DB missed what could be a very useful book: A book about Mormonism for Mental Health professionals.

    Lets face it, we’re a little weird, and I’m sure more than a few psychiatrists and psychologists have been scratching their heads over their Mormon patients.

    I have one friend who told me about her non-Mormon therapists’ struggle to understand her worldview.