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.