Mental Illness and George Albert Smith [UPDATED]

This post received much more attention than I anticipated. Due to some reader feedback, I have added some information about LDS Family Services to the end of the post. I also recommend Matt W.’s lesson outline, which incorporates some of this information.

I think that the Curriculum Committee of the church missed a tremendous opportunity with the production of the manual for study this year. Most of us know someone who has struggled with mental illness. We know someone who has or have ourselves taken anti-depressants, stimulants, lithium or AAPs. It is no secret that in the past, church leaders and church members have often misunderstood mental illness. However, we live at a time when we can all safely view mental illness as a biological problem, like cancer, that needs to be treated. I think however, that many people who suffer with these issues still feel stigmatized, and some yet think that it is simply an emotional or spiritual failing.

George Albert Smith, 1939.

It is therefore tragic that the new manual does not mention George Albert Smith’s lifelong struggle with what appears to be some sort of chronic depression and anxiety disorder. Instead it describes his health issues and years of convalescence as strictly physical maladies (which though technically correct, obfuscates the real mental illness component of his suffering).

Unfortunately, though the primary documents are fairly explicit on the matter, there has been fairly little written on the topic. One exception to this is a Journal of Mormon History article authored by BYU Rel. Ed. Professor Mary Jane Woodger entitled, “‘Cheat the Asylum of a Victim’: George Albert Smith’s 1909–12 Breakdown” (the article begins on p. 120 of the linked PDF). Woodger’s article is not a complete study of George Albert Smith’s mental illness, and she is very conservative in her analysis, but it is a good look at the major crisis in then Elder Smith’s life.

What should be clear to all Latter-day Saints, however, is that you can suffer from mental illness and still become the President of the Church, sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator. Church leaders, including the highest offices in the church, can and do suffer from these illnesses. In casual conversations over the last few weeks, this understanding of the example of George Albert Smith has been tremendously comforting to many people I know. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those who suffered could hear the good news?

[Update] LDS Family Services (LDSFS) is an important resource for those interested in seeking help in many areas, including mental illness. LDSFS no longer requires a referral from a Bishop or Branch President, and unless you specifically authorize them to discuss your case with your ecclesiastical leader, they will maintain all the confidentiality required by law. A list of LDSFS offices is available here. You can call them directly to make an appointment.


  1. observer fka eric s says:

    This is great, thank you for posting.

  2. Curtis Weber says:

    I completely agree. I know several people who have experienced depression—some severe, some relatively minor and temporary—and many do not want others to know of it because of the associated stigma in Mormon culture.

  3. Preach it!

  4. Dang it J. I have this exact post half written…

    Has anyone read Woodger’s new George Albert Smith Bio? I enjoyed her article in JMS so much, I wanted to see if she went the same direction under the Deseret Book banner…

  5. This is very interesting. I was much more familiar with the physical issues. Just out of curiosity, are you aware of any speeches or talks which he gave which focused on mental illness? Thanks for posting this by the way. I completely agree that this should be an important point within conversations about mental illness within the membership.

  6. Also, does anyone know when George’s left eye started veering to the left? I am trying to get a sense of how many photos of him are doctored…

  7. Jack, I don’t think we can seperate GAS’s mental and physical issues.

    Matt, I don’t know anything about the bio.

  8. J., thanks for this. I was hoping to make reference to his MI issues in my lesson this week, and was disappointed that details were lacking in the new manual. Appreciate the link.

  9. Jack:

    George Albert Smith lived in a time when psychology and psychiatry were not developed or available to him. His main issue occurred in 1909-1912, and he died in the early 50s. As late as the 50s, the only psychiatry/psychology in Utah was freudian (thus crap). So George did not really understand his situation as mental illness, nor was it socially acceptable. So no, he did not speak of it much. Further, most of his depression, anxiety, nervous collapse was brought on by the stress having to do with his physical problems (blindness, a bad stomach, lupus, back pain, etc.), so his speaking of these things generally implied the other parts.

  10. Good stuff, J. This is invaluable.

  11. Matt, you can read an excerpt of the book in today’s DNews: “The Daily Routine of a Mormon Prophet: George Albert Smith”.

  12. Thanks J. I consider this post a personal favor.

  13. I agree, a huge opportunity missed. Another opportunity missed is how his letting go of his hope to be cured and his surrender to God seemed to be the turning point in his long rehabilitation. It resembled in some way an AA person hitting bottom and surrendering to a higher power, though there were no addiction issues for GAS. Woodger’s article tells that story nicely.

  14. whizzbang says:

    I made mention of this article in a talk I gave some months ago and have gotten a positive response to it and requests for the article, which I had!

  15. This is an important post. Thanks.

  16. It sounds like he was a really, really nice guy.

  17. J. Do we know if the experience of GAS in any way influenced Louise Y Robison’s efforts to increase awareness and care for mental illness?

  18. Thanks, J., for the post. An invaluable insight, and one we should all keep in mind while studying GAS’s life and teachings this year.

  19. Mark Brown says:

    Good work, J.

    What should be clear to all Latter-day Saints, however, is that you can suffer from mental illness and still become the President of the Church, sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator. Church leaders, including the highest offices in the church, can and do suffer from these illnesses.

    I wish we knew how to convey this better, and to help our people understand that each one of them, regardless of perceived flaws, is invaluable to the kingdom.

  20. Thanks. I’ve been fairly open about my long-term struggles with mental illness, and given my tendency to go against the current I believe I have a rep in my ward as being a bit of a “crazy apostate.” This information about GAS is really, really good to know. I hold back in church a lot because (hey, I’m no fool) I know a lot of people, compassionate as they may be, still instinctively discount the thoughts of those they perceive to be “crazy.”

  21. Wonderful, J.

    This is so badly needed in the Church – and in our society as a whole. I plan on mentioning it at least once in a lesson this year, and it’s great to see it discussed openly.

  22. Thoughtfully portraying Pres. Smith’s struggle with depression would not only comfort thousands of Latter-day Saints who are probably pretty down on themselves — it would also validate his own trials and give them a purpose. I think most of us deal with depression or anxiety at some point in our lives, and knowing that even prophets are not immune to these things is very reassuring.

  23. Great points, J. Thanks!

  24. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been on anti-depressants/anxitey meds at one point and have several family members who struggle with mental illness issues. It blows me away when I hear other church members commenting that mental illness is a sign of a weak testimony or lack of faith etc, etc etc. Obviously it is not any of those things. I think knowing that a president of the Church suffered with mental illness issues is comforting and reassuring — as well as giving us the opportunity to show empathy and compassion for members of our families and wards that also might be suffering.

  25. I ran a 5th-Sunday lesson a few years ago on depression for my ward. We talked about Harold B. Lee, but I hadn’t heard of GAS struggling with it as well. This would be a powerful example. One thing that helped some members for breaking the automatic “depression is due to sin” frame is acknowledging “despair” and guilt, etc. due to sin, but framing actual depression/mental illness as something else. Sinners and Saints both can suffer from depression.

    My question – what is the purpose of leaving out any talk on mental illness? Was it unintentional? If not, why would the committee leave it out?

  26. You’re a kinder man than I am J. Your wonderful post is overshadowed, IMO, by the fact that very few Church members will actually read this important information (a cruel irony). The manual gods crash and burn once again.

  27. David M, Morris says:


  28. Really great post, J. Thank you.

    Matt W.–go ahead and finish that half written post of yours. I’d love to read it.

  29. Greg Smith says:

    The stigma of mental illness is present in both LDS and non-LDS contexts. If anything, the LDS tend to get more support (in my experience, as one who treats both). The less-helpful remarks from LDS people often invoke a spiritual dimension, but the non-LDS ones usually have an equally-moral implied failure: one is weak, or lazy, etc.

    Given that depression often has an ill-defined sense of guilt, such remarks are all-too-easily believed by the patient, whose brain is looking for an,or any, explanation.

    So, this isn’t so much an “LDS” bias, but simply a “western culture” bias.

  30. observer fka eric s says:

    Does anyone have anything on what “treatments” he received from the unamed doc in Venice/Santa Monica during his year there? Any indication that he may have smoked Indian herb to de-stress? Its a serious, plausible medicinal question.

  31. #29 – That’s an excellent point, Greg.

    One of the reasons I really hate the “charge” that Mormonism contributes to the relatively high use of anti-depressants in Utah is that I see a relatively high use of anti-depressants as an incredibly good thing. I think the rate in Utah shows that Mormons and Mormonism are relatively better at acknowledging the need for prescribed medication to help with depression than the rest of our society – so I think the rate actually should be celebrated, not attacked. Iow, I agree that Mormonism is at least partly responsible for the rate, but I’m glad it is – and I say that as someone who has seen the benefits in my own immediate and extended family.

  32. whizzbang says:

    I@25-In the manual all it says about the time 1909-1912 is “suffers from serious health problems”

  33. Thank you for this post, it’s really wonderful. Such a shame that they would leave this out of the manual. Hopefully there are enough RS and EQ teachers in the bloggernacle that this part of the message can start to seep out anyway.

  34. Having a family member who struggles with depression, this is an important post for me. We have to be a bit more proactive in getting this kind of message out there, both to the sufferers and their family members, and to church membership in general. I agree, an opportunity lost. Thanks, J.

  35. Greg Smith says:

    #31 – Ray: right.

    In fact, the whole “Utah has high antidepressants” claim, which is almost always used as an _attack_ or indictment of Utah or LDS culture illustrates exactly the problem: to be depressed is seen (in western culture generally) as a type of moral flaw or failing, and one which people’s actions and circumstances usually “cause.” Things are better than they were even 10 years ago, but there is still a huge stigma–people may mouth the right words, but attacks like this demonstrate that the society generally isn’t very enlightened about it.

    (Never mind that the data seem to show that religiousity of ANY stripe is protective against such things, and that very active LDS have lower rates than others.) Plus, Mormons don’t use a lot of other centrally acting agents (e.g., alcohol, mood altering drugs) that people often use to cope with depression. Mormons are also relatively self-reflective, so they tend to be a bit more psychologically minded (potentially) and may well be more suited to responding to non-drug interventions that involve reflecting on life, choices, personality style, etc.–that’s anecdotal, but I think it’s easy to see how it could well be true. :-)

    Part of the problem, which I alluded to, is that we want “reasons” or explanations–both the patient and the people around them. So, people blame whatever their circumstances are:

    a) If I was married, I wouldn’t feel so horrible
    b) If I wasn’t married to such a jerk/insensitive person/ withholding women, etc., I wouldn’t feel so horrible
    c) If I didn’t have to work outside the home and feel guilty because of LDS culture, I’d feel better
    d) If I wasn’t stuck home with kids, because of LDS culture, but was out in the workforce, I’d feel better
    e) If only he was more active in the Church, he’d feel better
    f) If only he wasn’t so dedicated and vulnerable to the Church’s “perfectionism” he’d feel better.

    ANY set of data can and is blamed for the problem.

    And so on and on. The brain wants to find reasons, and will find them–even when (or especially when) the brain is sick. People often want reasons, and are relieved (or nonplused) when I point out to them that there may not BE a reason, save that they are human. Why did you get pneumonia? Why did you get diabetes? Why did you slip and break your leg? Sometimes we do dumb things that make us more vulnerable to such things, but more often than not it is plain, dumb, telestial “luck”.

    Greg (MD, CCFP)

  36. #32: in fairness, there’s a whole section labeled “Personal Illness and Other Trials” in “The Life and Ministry…” section. Granted it does not speak directly to his depression / anxiety issues. And I agree that it is an opportunity missed. But I wonder if there was reluctance because President Smith never spoke of his illness in those terms, either. (I’m not defending the writers of the manual, just trying to imagine how they made the choices they did.)

    Greg, very helpful comments; thanks.

  37. Aw. Gives hope to the chronically anxious. A good dose of neurological charity for the day and for the year. Thank you, J.

  38. Chris Gordon says:

    Read a great bit of LDS History on BCC: check.
    Send link to current PH instructor: check.
    PH instructor enthusiastically agrees to share in class: check.

    Score one more for the Internet.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    Greg, I think part of the problem is that the very nature of depression isn’t well understood – and that includes the psychologists and psychiatrists who prescribe these drugs. Many scientists think depression is vastly over diagnosed and has a lot to do with social expectations. (Thus the critique of Utah culture – that there’s pressure to be too happy all the time — I don’t agree although there’s some truth to it all) There’s also a view that a lot of anti-depressants work primarily via the placebo effect. (Which isn’t to say they don’t have an effect) There’s also an minority view that anti-depressant use may actually lead to more depression. Note I’m not advocating these views but I do think there are legitimate reasons to be worried in the aggregate about how we are reacting to mental illness versus general behavior.

  40. Clark Goble says:

    Note to say it doesn’t work as often as used and may have a placebo function is not to say it might not work well in some cases.

  41. Greg Smith says:

    it is hard to turn this type of material into a didactic thing on mental illness, simply because it wasn’t understood (or probably experienced) in that framework. It can probably teach you more about enduring _suffering_ than mental illness per se, simply because they didn’t have the mental models to frame it that way. It would be presentism to see it that way. [Not that presentism hasn’t, on occasion, infected a gospel doctrine manual or two. ;-) But, I don’t think it does our historical understanding many favors, nice as it might be in some cases.]

    Depression and the like is (and was) often “somatized”–expressed in a physical sense, from body, “soma”–partly because the patient or their society can better accept or “see” the issue as a problem in that way. The “back pain” and “stomach pain” he had are classic for such things. It would be interesting to know how good the “lupus” diagnosis is by modern standards. Anyone know of any analyses of his _medical_ problems? There might be more clues there if one doesn’t take the physical complaints strictly at face value.

    But you must pity the man. Freud was all there was, and its hard to think of much that Freud got right. Its even hard to avoid thinking of much that was overtly fraudulent in what Freud did and wrote. :-) It was the equivalent of leeches, bleeding, and purging people.

  42. Jonathan, Thank you for this post. You’ve obviously raised a very important, very sensitive issue for a lot of people. Woodger has touched on these kinds of issues before. Check out her co-authored biography of George H. Brimhall, which features a kind of honesty regarding Brimhall’s physical and mental health problems and suicide that other biographies would do well to emulate. There’s also the very revealing, very touching biography of Carl Badger, the secretary to Reed Smoot during the Smoot Hearings, written by his son, that treats with surprising candor Badger’s depression and eventual suicide. I suspect we’ll see more of this kind of honesty and these kinds of studies. Such work is its own kind of therapy.

  43. Did GAS’s near-drowning experience recounted in Woodger’s Mormon History article: (starts at the bottom of the page here: sound to anyone else like a possible suicide attempt he thought better of?

  44. Has anyone done a detailed analysis of the occurrence of mental illness in the Smith family line? The only thing I’ve been able to find is an intriguing footnote at the bottom of page ten which states that no fewer than six male descendants suffered from either schizophrenia or manic-depression.

    Click to access Dialogue_V26N04_19.pdf

    On a side note, after having read small portions of Henry D. Moyle’s expansion plans, it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to surmise he may have suffered from mania. Has anyone written about this as a possibility?

  45. observer fka eric s says:

    (43) Steel.

    Duke had just begun to introduce surfing to the mainland around the time GAS was in Cali: “He made surfing popular in mainland America first in 1912 while in Southern California.” Here’s the link:

    And “Double header” . . . who uses that kind of language but surfers?

    So No, it was not a suicide attempt. I think this is actually the first instance we have of an apostle attempting to surf. But GAS self-censored in his journal about the surfing part because he didn’t do well and the pass time was not socially acceptable for a GA to be doing that . . . yet.

    Maybe Stapley has more on Apostle surfing.

  46. Is there any possibility in today’s modern ward for someone who is depressed to get assistance without the entire ward finding out about it? Can people get treatment in private or is it bound to get out?

  47. queuno, I don’t know why anyone would find out, especially if you go to your own doctor rather than the bishop and/or a bishop-referred LDSFS doctor. If it’s your own doctor, that is no more likely to make the rounds than any other thing you discuss with your doctor. The only thing I guess would be if the symptoms (pre-treatment-kicking-in) are so bad that people suspect.

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    Jeff, one relevant data point would be Joseph’s posthumous son, David Hyrum Smith:

    Avery, Valeen Tippetts. From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet. University of Illinois Press, 1988

  49. whizzbang says:

    @46-I got help from LDS social services following my divorce and pre-depression, anxiety, etc. The only ones who knew were the Bishop, therapist(from Alberta in my case) and I had to schedule the first one or two visits or something through the High Councilor in charge of LDS social services-if anyone else knew I would be extremely surprised. I went to the church to meet during the day time when no one was there

  50. I guess the reason is that I know several people who won’t go, if it means being discussed in welfare meetings, etc. Obviously, the clerks know, since they are writing the checks. Does this kind of counsel stay in the bishop’s office?

  51. Cynthia L. says:

    They should check with their health insurance (if they have one) and government and non-profit options for help with getting some of it covered, if they’re really that concerned. Personally, I would not go through church unless it was necessary financially, just because I view it as just like going to a dentist or doctor or hairstylist or plumber. I don’t seek the bishop’s referral or recommendations for any of those professionals.

  52. #50 – It is supposed to stay in the Bishop’s office, queuno – but that’s not a guarantee, obviously.

  53. whizzbang says:

    @50-I was an exec. sec at the time and was in all the meetings and at least for me it wasn’t discussed and I haven’t ever heard of others’ being discussed in meetings, having said that I do know of others who have also seen someone in LDS social serviced but they told me that so no leaks of any kind. I do know that my therapist talked to my bishop probably just for that reason alone and probably to make sure my story checks out and to get more background to see if I wasn’t lying to him-of which I wouldn’t have ever thought. I paid for it all on my own. I know a few LDS people who see someone who isn’t LDS

  54. Greg Smith says:


    I’m not sure why one would presume over diagnosis. For example, 1 in 10 people who enter a family doc office meet the criterria.

    The other problem is that antidepressants are also used for a variety of other conditions: Anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, biploar (sometimes), chronic pain, fibromyalgia, menstrual troubles, irritable bowel syndrome, post menopausal hot flashes. All these have at least some studies where they are better than placebo. (Therre’s also the problem that insurance may pay for meds over equally viable non drug approaches).

    So, merely looking at antdepressants as a metric is a lousy way to assess diagnosis unless you know what diagnoses go with the use of that drug. It’s like using aspirin scripts as a meausre for amount of pain in Utah without knowing that some aspirin is used for heart attack prevention.

    If one wants to know LDS mental health rates, look at those data directly, don’t try to use surrogate markers. And, most studies I’ve seen put LDS at or better than the population norm. (But one can still ask cause an effect–eg, do depressed people tend to go inactive more often, and thus select themselves out?)

  55. Cynthia,

    If I had followed my bishop’s advice concerning my dentistrical needs, possibly I’d still have teeth.

    Instead, I went to a dentist in Babylon.

  56. I lost my teeth, you might lose your mind.

    Just sayin.

  57. Hey, I suffer from mental illness. Does that mean that I too can one day be President of the Church? . . . . Oh.

  58. If you have an interest, I am currently detailing the life of George Albert Smith at It will include details if his mental illness from a number of sources including his journals.

  59. Thank you for expanding my horizons.

  60. Thanks Kevin B, the reference you gave was fascinating and seems to raise even more intriguing questions. It appears that there’s no disputing that for a significant portion of the 27 years David Hyrum Smith spent in the asylum he suffered from mania. What is also beyond dispute is the genetic component of the illness. So I ask –

    Would it be upsetting to us now to consider the very real possibility that the prophet Joseph himself suffered from manic depression? It would simply and simultaneously explain both his genius and behaviors that some find troubling.

    Equally fascinating is contemplating just how how different the church would be today if David had become prophet – a possibility that even Brigham Young was willing to concede. David seemed every bit as brilliant, if not more so, than his father.

  61. Interesting to read this. As someone who struggles with physical health issues, even what was in the manual was a great comfort to me. It helps to hear that some trials just aren’t removed, and that faith (and the ability to serve) is not dependent on having a trial-free existence. That alone will be helpful, I hope, to many. (I think what is unfortunate is that such reality, at least on the physical side of things, has shown up often in our leaders’ lives (Pres. Kimball, Pres. Benson, Elder Maxwell, Elder Hales, etc.) But when it’s your trial, it can be hard to remember and internalize that reality. It’s hard not to buy into the faith = no trials mentality. But we don’t need the manual to do this for us. We can do this for each other…and I think one way to do that is to ourselves be open with our trials with each other. I’m grateful for the people around me who have talked about health issues (physical and mental), infertility, loss of children, etc. in the context of how faith helps one face trials, not necessarily take them away.

    I was also interested in the hints that they struggled with infertility to some degree.

    Greg, a friend of mine has done a lot of research over the years on religion and mental illness, and he explored many of the same things you have here. (Some of his thoughts (and brief summaries of other elements of his research) can be found here.) I appreciate the additional reminder that antidepressants can be used for a variety of other ailments besides depression. And Ray brings up the important point that we ought not jump to the conclusion that antidepressant use is necessarily a bad thing in the first place.

  62. As one who has depression & anxiety issues, I find this uplifting. Yes, there’s still some hardcore people in the Church that believe mental issues are due to sin. Yet, diabetes was once thought as being from a lack of will, until insulin was discovered. Oops. Epilepsy is still treated with Dark Age mentality by many, maybe even still by some in the Church.

    Right now, I’ve been seeing an LDS FS Counselor. She does not tell me anything like “be more righteous, & your issues will go away”. I think she would appreciate this thread. I didn’t want to see a Counselor from my health plan, since the last one from there I saw urged me to be more confrontational, & less passive aggressive. That did not help me at all.

    I wonder if GA Smith had chronic fatigue. That’s another issue that is dealt with too lightly. I Know SW Kimball got very depressed when he was called to be an Apostle.

    #44-Wasn’t Henry D. Moyle who pushed for missionaries to only sleep 5 hours a night in England, and use the extra time to proselyte? I hate to critique him, but it sounds like a schedule only a manic could do for 2 years, without a break down. There’s no proof that the success of early LDS missionaries in England was due to being workaholic.

  63. I’ve dealt with depression for a while. My parents recently became aware of the fact that it’s gotten bad again. My dad’s comment today was that he thought a lot about me while reading the 1st Presidency message and said that all we can do is choose how to react to the trials we’re given and deal with them in a positive way. I know he meant well, but it just came off as being incredibly ignorant and assuming. I’d hope that information like this can disseminate and help more people realize there are serious biological components involved. You’d think my parents would realize this given how much depression runs in the family. Unfortunately I think it is often assumed that the people who are depressed are that way because they aren’t praying enough or just deciding to be happy. Why don’t I just choose to be happy? Wow, thanks! I hadn’t considered doing that!

  64. I’m reading the article you linked to, J, and I think there is enough speculation and variability in the “conclusions” about the cause/effect, chicken/egg element of the physical/mental facets of his struggles that I’m coming to appreciate perhaps why the topic was not addressed in the manuals.

    It feels a bit weird to me to have people retroactively trying to diagnose him, either mentally or physically. (It’s hard enough to do that with someone living, breathing, talking, and being tested in the here and now. And even in our comparatively advanced medical knowledge, there are still so many chronic illnesses that simply don’t have clear diagnoses, let alone cures.)

    In fact, as someone who deals with chronic illness, it was a bit frustrating to see some of the discussion seem to want to pigeonhole his physical ailments into a mental illness category. Anyone who struggles with physical health issues knows how easily that can lead to depression and anxiety, as secondary struggles. The two are so closely tied, but it’s no better to dismiss the physical and assign the blame to mental illness, imo, than it is to only acknowledge physical health issues and ignore mental health ones. The ‘running in the family’ problems included fatigue. The diagnosis of lupus was interesting, and other physical ailments considered (hyperthyroidism) could also have depression as a secondary illness. It was also interesting to read his comments connecting discouragement to evil spirits / a lack of the Spirit. (In other words, there are elements of his story that could hurt or confuse those w/ mental illness, too. I think the real message of his story is that sometimes God doesn’t take away our burdens, or sometimes it takes time for some relief, but in His time and way, and as we submit to His will, we can find strength to face our trials, and we can and will be sustained according to God’s will.)

    This all just seems really a complex combination of a lot of factors that even in our day would likely lead to varying diagnoses, even if he were face-to-face with the doctors and/or psychologists.

    I appreciate glimpses into his humanity (and could relate to so much of what he describes of feeling inadequate, frustrated, and worried about not being able to fulfill his duty…I plan to share this with others who also deal with the heavy burden of chronic illness), but after reading that, I think it would be hard to sum that up, “diagnose him” if you will, in an accurate (vs. speculative) way in a correlated manual.

    But again, I will definitely be sharing that article with others who know the pain of prolonged illness, be it mental or physical. So thanks for the heads-up about it.

  65. I don’t see any mention here of his testimony or his contribution to the church or the world. The focus should be on his message, not his personal health issues that he obviously wanted to keep personal. I don’t believe it helps anyone respect a prophet more because his personal issues are exposed. What’s next? Will you be posting information about church leaders with hemmorhoids or erectile dysfunction? This article shows not only unfounded arrogance in criticizing current church leaders whom you say you support, but also a lack of good manners and human compassion.

  66. I agree completely. We missed a great opportunity here to discuss something very important, something, as has been noted, did not prevent a fine man from becoming president of the church, but just meant he carried an extra burden while he was president. But then the church has never been too honest in discussing our presidents. Remember when they presented Brigham Young as monogamous?

  67. Annette,
    I could not possibly disagree with you more. I think an awareness of the human frailty of our leadership is important and faith-affirming. Further, I think that knowing that Pres Smith struggled with depression and other ailments, yet was still an obviously well-beloved servant of the Lord provides hope to many who similarly struggle. Glossing it over removes an avenue for inspiration and reinforces stigmas regarding mental and physical illness in the prevailing culture. I can understand current leadership not wanting to get into it (they aren’t doctors or medical professionals and certainly aren’t able to comment on Pres Smith’s illness), but I agree with J that they are missing an opportunity. Pointing out the missed opportunity isn’t criticism (at least, it isn’t negative criticism).

    As to any mention of his testimony or contribution to the church or world, it isn’t necessary. That is all self-evident. It’s all in the book. This post is about something that wasn’t in the book. But you’ve no reason to assume J doesn’t hold Pres Smith in high esteem.

    As to the proposition that knowing a prophet’s weakness does little to engender respect, I would direct you to the writings of Nephi, Alma, and Paul.

    All that said, thank you for commenting. I hope I’ve helped address your concerns.

  68. “But then the church has never been too honest in discussing our presidents.”
    That’s wandering real close to troll territory. Watch yourself, please.

  69. Steve Evans says:

    like. clockwork.

  70. Belated thanks to J. Stapley and Matt W. for the information. I’ll definitely have to read the article in the post.

  71. The manual also does not mention that GAS was the first non-polygamist President of the Church, but so what? Besides, at the front of the manual is an invitation to send suggestions for improvement to the Curriculum Dept. Was this done?

  72. Steve Evans says:

    John, the answer to your second question is “yes”. The answer to your first question is “apples and oranges”, which suggests to me that you really didn’t get the purpose of the post.

  73. John T, others have spelled out above why a discussion of GAS’ mental health issues might have been valuable. That GAS was our first non-polygamous president is interesting, but it’s omission from the manual doesn’t strike me as the same sort of missed opportunity. I don’t know whether J has Sent a suggestion to the curriculum committee, but whether he has or not, posting this for all the non-committee world to see is still helpful and valuable.

  74. John, those are interesting questions. As far as I am aware, there isn’t a significant segment of the population that suffers from being the first monogomists in their respective life stations. It is clear that the manual authors felt that a lengthy discussion of President Smith’s Health problems was inspirational as they included a lengthy discussion of them in the introduction. My point in writing this post was that several people I know who suffer with mental illness or know people who do found GAS’s experiences inspirational and thought that a wider awareness of the issues would be a blessing to many.

  75. “As far as I am aware, there isn’t a significant segment of the population that suffers from being the first monogomists in their respective life stations.”


  76. You’ve done a great service with this post, J.

  77. Clark Goble says:

    Greg: (56) I’m not sure why one would presume over diagnosis. For example, 1 in 10 people who enter a family doc office meet the criteria.

    Note it’s not me claiming over-diagnosis. Rather this is a big issue within the scientific community. An other big issue are people honestly untrained to make the diagnosis prescribing the drugs. (i.e. other sorts of doctors) A recent study showed that the percent of visits where doctors prescribed the drugs without a psychiatric diagnosis was 72.7% The study also showed the drug use was concentrated among people with less severe and poorly defined conditions. Those most likely to have less effect by the drugs even by many proponents of anti-depressants.

    There are other uses for the drugs but the effectiveness varies. One big problem in the industry is that as soon as you are better than a placebo effect it’s judged useful without there being a discussion of how much better it is. When balancing medication’s effectiveness versus side effects (which can be severe with anti-depressants) that is an important bit of information. Unfortunately most doctors don’t really appear to make that consideration.

    Finally there’s an issue of how tests of the drugs are funded with negative results not getting published. For instance the makers of Prozac and Paxil didn’t publish a third of their studies. When looking at how effective the drugs are above placebo that very important since it is studies in the aggregate that give us a lot of the data. (Also some studies aren’t as good due to the type of placebos used, etc. – often patients can unconsciously tell what is or isn’t a placebo) This bias towards positive results is, of course, not merely a problem with anti-depressants.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that people not take anti-depressants. For two reasons. For one there are people with severe depression where the drugs can be very effective when combined with other treatments. For an other the placebo effect is a real effect. However many doctors are going to the drugs without considering other treatments, not doing proper analysis, and so forth.

  78. Clark Goble says:

    Regarding the manual, they don’t pretend to be histories. I think people want them to be more than they are intended. Further we are all supposed to be doing our own independent study and not just relying on lessons as our sole access to gospel knowledge or history.

    With regards to GAs there are quite a few with various types of mental illness or just problems requiring therapy. As I recall Robert Millet actually got started as a therapist to various GAs hired by the Church before working at BYU. I recall him saying it was very trying dealing with the human side of our leaders and knowing all their problems. It’s easy to think our leaders don’t suffer the same problems the rest of us do. So I’m grateful the manual at least touches on such issues. As the original post notes, there is a missed opportunity here to increase community awareness of mental illness as well as better understanding of our leadership’s trials.

  79. At first, I thought your use of the word “tragic” was overkill. Then I realized how much I’d personally benefit from including information related to his depression in lessons. So now, I think, dang, yeah, tragic.

  80. #74: “My point in writing this post was that several people I know who suffer with mental illness or know people who do found GAS’s experiences inspirational and thought that a wider awareness of the issues would be a blessing to many.”

    It is to me.

  81. Nobody should really be surprised at the omission of this part of Smith’s life. After all, it would stand in such contrast against the usual pablum-like content of the manual!

    Frankly, the Church doesn’t even acknowledge the role of plural marriage in Joseph Smith’s life in that giant two-year course manual about him. (Well, actually, there is one little snippet in the introductory material on page 22, prior to Lesson One. It reads, “…the Prophet dictated the revelation that describes the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. … As commanded by God, he also taught the doctrine of plural marriage.”)

    If the bureaucrats who put together these manuals can’t even do that, then something as comparably insignificant as a three-year “health issue” in G.A. Smith’s life is never going to even show up on their radar.

  82. This is the first time I’ve read this blog, and I found this post to be very interesting. I had no idea George Albert Smith had any kind of mental illness. People have stated that they feel it was a mistake not to include details about his mental illness in the new manual. I don’t see it that way. My bottom-line opinion is that I sustain the leadership of the church, and I believe that they compile church manuals (of any sort) prayerfully, so I try to accept and study the information we’re given as directed by the spirit.

    I think it’s a mistake to turn to other sources beyond the manuals when we are teaching doctrine in church. In fact, we’ve specifically been asked not to. Church manuals and other documents are inspired, and we should teach from them as directed by the spirit. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we try to bring in other sources.

    Also, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but church manuals are not about catering to specific audiences (e.g., people with mental illness). They are about teaching basic principles as they relate to our spiritual welfare. I don’t think it’s the church’s responsibility to anticipate what we want to hear; rather, they tell us what we need to hear.

    I don’t know why details about Smith’s mental illness would have been excluded from the manual, except that I can see it going the opposite way than most of the other commenters have suggested. Instead of saying “Gearoge Albert Smith had a mental illness, and I do too, so clearly things aren’t hopeless,” I can see people saying, “Well, George Albert Smith said that (insert doctrine here), but he was mentally ill, so clearly that’s something I don’t need to listen to.” People often look at the weaknesses of church leaders to justify their own disobedience.

    Anyhow, those are a few of my thoughts.

  83. Thank you very much for this post. It’s comforting to me as well.

    Regarding the subject of depression, I highly recommend a book called The Depression Cure which has some fascinating information about the placebo effect of antidepressants and the amazing positive effects of things like vitamin D, enough sleep, and social time. (No, it’s not a “quack” book…I promise.)

  84. Clark Goble says:

    I don’t think one should call it pablum. One can use simple stuff to engender good discussions. A lot rests on the teacher. (Not to turn this into a general discussion of manuals) Part of the difficulty is reaching a wide range of people.

    I’ll be the first to admit I find the prophet series of lesson manuals are the hardest to teach. That’s not because of pablum but just because it’s not clear the route one should take with a series of short quotes. That is, how are we to treat the place of the prophet in the discussion. The way the lessons are arranged is topical – more like the Gospel Principles manual than say the Book of Mormon manual.

  85. Very interesting. I also have friends who suffer with mental illness, a cousin who is going through post-partum depression and although I was very young, I remember my great-grandfather and his sisters succumbing one by one to Alzheimer’s Disease.

    I think we all value the life experiences of those whom we admire, respect or look up to, because that is what turns them human and that is how we can connect with them. That’s when we can say in our hearts: “He/she understands what I am going through.” It would have been productive to address this aspect of GAS in a way that we all got educated about the issues and ended up feeling a higher admiration for him.

    One of the most basic and fundamental of Christian teachings is to love one another. To help and understand each other as a society/community is one of those subjects where we can always be reminded constantly and we can always be offered more material of different examples without being redundant. I agree with the post that an opportunity was missed, to let us have a glimpse into this type of burden and to teach us we should be understanding and loving of those who suffer these things.

    I think religion in general (not just LDS) still falls short when addressing these issues. My heart breaks when I come across people who are discriminated against or otherwise mistreated due to social stigmas surrounding things that can happen to any of us, such as mental illness, infertility, down syndrome, etc, etc.

  86. This was such a wonderful post and the link was amazing too and became my night reading last night. Great work.

  87. Regarding Joseph Smith as bi-polar, I know that Scott Kenny (who has a forthcoming biography of Joseph Smith) has entertained this idea in the past.

  88. Phillip C. Smith says:

    George Albert Smith is one of my great uncles. He is a wonderful person, so full of love. I watched his actions as president of the Church and knew then as I do now that Uncle George Albert was a true prophet of God.

    I believe that he operated effectively as a prophet during his mortal life. His intensive illness during the 1909-1912 period probably helped him be more compassionate and understanding of those with physical and mental health problems. His condition did not in any way impair his effectiveness as a prophet.

    It is unfortunate that some people use or would use Uncle George Albert’s health issues as some sort of club against the Church. Such efforts are alluded to by Jesus Christ in Matthew 5: 10-12.

    Phillip Smith

  89. Phillip,
    Thank you for sharing your testimony of your great uncle. I assure you that no-one is working against the church here nor do we hold your great uncle’s struggles against him, against the church, or against God.

  90. Kristin,
    See my comment to James above. Yours

  91. #87: There was some minor speculation regarding that in Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s “Fingerprints of God,” which is a fairly fascinating take on spirituality and neuroscience, from a former Christian Scientist.

    Also, I’m glad to see this sort of thing getting more attention in LDS circles. From Elder Morrison’s good work on this subject to Elder Oaks’s recounting his mother’s nervous breakdown and what that meant to his family, already devastated by the loss of their physician father not much earlier, in “Life’s Lessons Learned.”

  92. Philip, thanks for stopping by. I hope that you don’t think that in writing the original post I was attempting to damage the Church or the memory of your great uncle. As you say, he was a great man and a great Church President. His life-long struggle with mental and physical illness only contextualizes his greatness, and perhaps as an example can bring us all closer within the body of Christ.

  93. Glass Ceiling says:

    I just need to say that I know next to nothing about G.A. Smith, the Prophet. But now I am more than intrigued as well as inspired. I suffer mental and physical illness myself and often feel isolated and misunderstood. And I know there are many like me in and out of the Church. The new manual is good, I’m sure. But this bit of new information about him is truly priceless. It is powerful for members and prospective members. The manual should spotlight this information. I cannot imagine why they wouldn’t.

  94. Clark Goble says:

    Joseph Smith has been accused of mental illness before. William Morain wrote a book attempting to make this claim. Sword of Laban. However I think it’s unwise to make such claims without a lot of data. And there just isn’t the data on Joseph like there is for George Albert Smith. Further typically the mental illness claim is a way to explain away or naturalize Joseph’s visionary nature. Often the authors also aren’t typically equipped to make such diagnosis.

  95. I’ve mentioned my own ancestor, George H. Brimhall, before, and once presented a paper on him at MHA. Brimhall was the president of BYU, but deeply depressed, which becomes obvious as one reads his journals. His life ended in suicide, which scandalized the family. There was a concerted family effort to keep it a secret. (Mary Jane Woodger and my uncle, Joseph Groberg, co-authored a book about Brimhall which does acknowledge the depression, though not as strongly as I think it should.)
    As for me and my house, depression is a reality. When my oldest son hit it in puberty, I got out Grandpa Brimhall’s journal entries and read the most heart wrenching ones. My son understood that this was part of his heritage–a painful but still important part. He felt less alone knowing that one of his ancestors had walked the path before. I am certain that had my grandfather had access to medication, he would not have died as he did.

  96. Clark – It is quite interesting that we use the word “accused” whereas some people would describe it as merely hypothesizing whether or not someone suffered from mental illness. I’m unaware of any circumstance in which someone has been accused of cancer. The link to the Dialogue article above arose out of discussions between the author and Dr. Jess Groesbeck who is an LDS psychiatrist. The theory is his, and he has written similar articles such as this one:

    Click to access 064-22-29.pdf

    As an aside, I would venture a guess that over diagnosis and over medication is undoubtably a problem and partially the result of unrelenting marketing techniques utilized by pharmaceutical companies. Just today it was announced that the makers of Risperdal would pay a one billion dollar settlement, and the makers of Zyprexa recently settled a 1.4 billion dollar lawsuit.

  97. Darcy said: Also, and I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but church manuals are not about catering to specific audiences (e.g., people with mental illness).

    This is a rather odd argument to make, I think. The manuals are scarcely anything but catering to specific audiences! I have never not paid a full tithe; should I adopt your elitist attitude toward the fact that some “specific audiences” do have struggles with paying a full tithe and need to be “catered to”? No. I understand that I must listen to lessons on that topic because church is where we look to bind up each others’ wounds, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, etc. Some people think reaching out to somebody else in their tribulation (e.g. mental illness) during a church lesson is a good idea. You sound like you want to personally stand guard at the door with a flaming sword to prevent such “catering-to” from happening in our meetings.

    Darcy said: My bottom-line opinion is that I sustain the leadership of the church, and I believe that they deserve our respect, which is why I don’t refer to a president of the church as “Smith.”

    Darcy- That is why I have resolved to read nothing but Church manuals and the Ensign. I don’t want their pure doctrine corrupted with any outside information. I’m also homeschooling my kids on the Ensign and Church manuals, since the world’s view of math, history, science, etc. is not sanctioned, and I don’t want anything that is unapproved, even if it’s true and useful. Indeed, I may say that I reject the admonition of Paul: anything that is lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, I ignore, unless it’s in a Church publication. I sustain Correlation as the only true and living anonymous prophet, whose manuals come down from Ensign Peak typed by the fingers of God.

    Darcy said: People who would discount good people’s character because of their mental illness have no understanding or appreciation mental illness. Or maybe of people…and the human condition.

    Darcy (#82): If you happen to read this, and you’d like to know how the manuals are written, here is an interview of Daniel C Peterson who served on the committee which wrote the manuals for 9 years. He discussed how that process works.

  98. I don’t believe it helps anyone respect a prophet more because his personal issues are exposed.

    #65-Anette: I heard MANY people in the Church say they respected Spencer W. Kimball more because of his dealing with the health issue while serving. I was a missionary while he was President of the Church. Also, Paul mentions in the New Testament that he had a thorn in the flesh-some kind of physical affliction.

  99. “I don’t believe it helps anyone respect a prophet more because his personal issues are exposed.”

    Why then are Job’s trials, including very personal issues like boils, included in the Bible? Jesus bleeding from every pore? Peter doubting and beginning to sink in the water? Joseph Smith’s agony in Liberty Jail? Are you saying we would be better off if the scriptural accounts of these prophets were expunged of all these details?

  100. Molly Bennion says:

    KSL’s 1979 documentary “Mormon Women and Depression,” though dated, of course, remains a very interesting discussion of the disease and community reaction to it. Sunstone printed a transcript in Issue 49.

  101. Glass Ceiling says:

    It should be mentioned that President G.A. Smith suffered these afflictions long before the advent of modern medication for mental illness… say nothing of modern therapy.

  102. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff: (96) Clark – It is quite interesting that we use the word “accused” whereas some people would describe it as merely hypothesizing whether or not someone suffered from mental illness.

    I think the word ‘accused’ is appropriate when they are attempting to discount his work because of the mental illness. That is it’s a reductive approach trying to explain away religious experience as mental illness.

  103. Alexandria Monahan says:

    I believe that most people have a difficult time dealing with any adversity that goes on and on or is difficult to grasp. As hard as it is on those living with the extended adversity it seems to be even more difficult on those outside the situation. In order to safeguard oneself one must come up with a palatable explanation — ie: if the sufferer were more righteous, prayed more, attended the temple more often, served more, etc, etc. then they would not be suffering so much. This is not really as cruel as it may seem, for those outside are not really “judging” the one/s suffering — they are only trying desperately to “protect” and secure their own lives. The idea that we really do not control all that we believe and are told we control is beyond bearable to most! Believing we can live so righteously that we earn the right to avoid adversity must go hand in hand with those who are suffering long term adversity (or adversity we do not understand, such as mental illness) must have failed in their righteous endeavors. I have always found this attitude to be curious, as we profess to hold in the greatest esteem the lives of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, and others whose lives were filled with trials and much suffering.
    If we hold family home evening religiously our children will not go astray, if we have food storage we will never go hungry, if we pay tithing we will always be ok financially, if we are well educated we will always have impressive jobs. The list goes on and on — I am in no way saying that we should not be obedient to nor am I saying we should not seek higher education — it is the tit for tat that I have problems with. Does God owe me for my “righteousness”? Am I greater than He who suffered? NO, NO, NO! If I truly want to be as HE is I must accept not only my suffering but the suffering of others. What part of my Gethsemane is yours? What part of your Gethsemane is mine? We truly must bear one anothers burdens. The true blessings come from the obedience and humility — accepting that through difficulties we approach the throne of God.

  104. D. Michael Quinn’s J.Reuben Clark: The Church Years presents Pres. G.A. Smith’s health issues from the point of view of Pres. Clark’s diligent efforts to shield Pres. Smith from overwork and stress in order to avoid a recurrence of the 1909-1912. Quinn avoids diagnosis as seems wise for a condition described sixty to one hundred years ago. And the mental health profession’s capacity to accurately describe any condition even when the patient is actually in front of them might be open to review based on the results of David Rosenhan’s ‘thud’ experiment (see Rosenhan Experiment on Wikipedia).

    Since the late 19th Century (and perhaps before) the mental health profession seems to have remained consistenly confident, as it is today, about its capacity to deal with mental problems, especially when compared with past darker ages. Not much has changed.

    This is not to say that mental illness is not real or that Pres. Smith did not suffer from a condition we might well describe as “mental illness.” The bottom line for me is that no one who has had to carry on while experiencing anything like the kind of anxiety and physical symptoms Pres. Smith displayed can fail to be impressed by his determination and faith. And, no doubt, he was a far more compassionate and kind person because of his suffering than he would have otherwise been. Blessings come in the most unexpected forms.

  105. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    I concur with Stephen that we should not be constantly trying to diagnose mental illness from a distance in time and space. One of the ways diagnosis is done is by applying treatments that have been efficacious for some people. Success of the treatment supports the diagnosis. We can’t do that from a century away. It was ridiculous when Fawn Brodie did it for Jefferson and Joseph Smith.

    Besides, having a debilitating physical illness naturally leads to feelings of depression in any normal person. It us those who overcome such feelings who are anomalous. Additionally, recognizing that emotional state is a reflection of the biochemical state of our bodies requires us to admit that physical illness can directly cause mental and emotional symptoms. Experiencing depression or anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder is not a result of unrighteous behavior per se.

    For me, the most inspiring part of Ptesident Smith’s experience was that he had the vision that is.most identified with him during that period of suffering.

  106. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    (Continued) in his vision of meeting his gradfather, and namesake, he was asked “What have you done with my name?” And PresidentnSmith was happy to relate that, as he reviewed his entire life history, he could reply to his grandfather that he had honored his name through a righteous life. He affirmed that he knew that none of his suffering, both physical and mental, was due to any fault of his own. Being able to say that to our ancestors is a good goal, and being able to say it to Christ, whose name we take upon us in baptism, is the essence of the Judgment. If we suffer with illness.of any kind, it is reassuring that we can say that of ourselves.

  107. BCC Admin says:

    Darcy made a comment (#82) that evoked many replies. In an effort to be less piling-on-ish, these have been combined into a single comment (#97).

  108. Hi Clark – I think most people who have suffered through mental illness might describe the experience or the insights they gained as being profoundly spiritual. I’m not sure they have to be mutually exclusive.

  109. I appreciate Kevin’s and Jeff’s references to David Hyrum Smith. His story has been laudably treated (pardon the pun) by many Community of Christ historians over the years.

  110. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff, I think the issue is more the authority of what is said. I’m sure people gain insight in various stages of consciousness whether natural or chemically enhanced. I’m not willing to say such insights have any authority. That is they can let us see in new ways but not necessarily trust what is said. What makes Joseph Smith or others different is the authority of claims to visions or the like. Of course Joseph Smith is a little trickier for critics due to the nature of the Book of Mormon witnesses. Although even there one finds appeals to mass hysteria like phenomena.

    I think one of the tests of true spirituality is arriving at knowledge. How to discern when we can trust our spiritual senses is difficult and ends up being tied to consequences and other empirical discoveries.

  111. Clark Goble says:

    Just to add – some things can be deeply significant without being able to ground them empirically. I’m sure many people have had deeply significant and sometimes life changing dreams. I’m not sure all such dreams are visionary.

  112. Response to comments in Collective Response 97:

    Obviously I have not followed this blog or the comments long enough to realize that sarcastic responses to honest, moderate opinions were acceptable. However, I’ll respond to some of the comments directed toward me and then call it good. I will add, though, that many people think that when you have an opinion they disagree with that you just don’t have any background in the subject. That is not the case for me. I have a close friend who has dealt with severe mental illness for several years now.

    I said that the church manuals are not about catering to specific audiences. In this case I meant any number of audiences, people with mental illnesses being only one of them. The church cannot possibly cover every audience of this sort, and to try to do so would inevitably leave out some group that got overlooked. If my original statement was not clear, my intent was to state that, in my understanding, the purpose of manuals and any kind of teaching in the church is to teach us principals that are necessary for our salvation. The basics.

    Calling George Albert Smith “Smith” was more an attempt to avoid the awkwardly long (at least when repeated multiple times) George Albert Smith and the even more awkward G.A.S. But I like the G.A. Smith that some people have been using, I think that works well. I can even put a “President” in front of it if it makes you feel better.

    I heartily agree with “the admonition of Paul.” We should actively seek the good things in life and incorporate them into our lives. The lovely commenter who implied that I said otherwise should go back and read what I originally wrote. I said nothing about being narrow- or small-minded. What I said was that we have been counseled, when we teach in church settings, to keep to the manual, the scriptures, and church publications. I imagine that this is, in part, to avoid the intentional or unintentional teaching of false doctrine. I have taught for several years in different positions in the church, and I often find that even when I am only using the manual and the scriptures, I rarely have enough time to cover all the material presented.

    To the person who provided the link about writing the church manuals: thank you. That was interesting.

    *I don’t claim the last comment on the Collective Response. I didn’t make that statement. [corrected by admin]

  113. Darcy–it wouldn’t be catering just to those who have mental illnesses, it would be addressing all those who know someone who has a mental illness, and help them understand what people with mental illnesses are going through. And since pretty much all of us know someone with a mental illness, and many of us need more sympathy in our interactions with those who have mental illnesses, addressing the issue is vitally important.

    My parents took some kind of institute class a couple of years ago from a guy who claimed that mental illnesses stem from sins. The institute teacher was wildly popular in the stake, and I don’t know that he was ever corrected on that point. Clearly many church members have much to learn about the nature of mental illnesses. Showing the effect of a mental illness on a man who later became God’s prophet would be an excellent way to show that mental illness is not the result of sin.

  114. Steve Evans says:

    Word up Darcy, thanks for replying. I know BCC can be a rough place for new commenters. Please stick it out, hang out with us and give us a chance. You’re good people, and I think you may find we’re good people too.

  115. GAS struggled with those problems his whole life. It’s a valuable thing to address a large fraction of the population, both in and out of the church, with examples from the lives of our leaders. President Smith was a good man and good men and women may be fighting mental illness. It’s worth saying that this doesn’t exclude you from even the highest responsibilities in church or elsewhere. This was a natural for this manual and it was an opportunity missed.

  116. Dennis Wendt says:

    I am a clinical psychologist in training, and I have experience diagnosing people with mental disorders using “gold standard” assessment tools. The OP seems to imply that a biologization of mental illness leads to less stigma. This has been the banner call of NAMI for many years. Interesting theory, but it just isn’t true. Lots of evidence to show that biologization actually increases stigma, even among mental health professionals. See Ethan Watters’ article at — mandatory reading for anyone who wants to talk critically about the politics of mental illness.

    Watters concludes, “Even as we have congratulated ourselves for becoming more “benevolent and supportive” of the mentally ill, we have steadily backed away from the sufferers themselves. It appears, in short, that the impact of our worldwide antistigma campaign may have been the exact opposite of what we intended.”

    Also: Mental illness does not have to be biologized in order to avoid it being a spiritual failing.

  117. Interesting blog. I’m a first timer here. I joined Mormon Voices recently and this article was emailed to me with others mentioning anything LDS or Mormon. This article caught my special attention because I am afflicted with depression and anxiety. Here’s my take: I think there is so little that we know about the human body and the mind and the spirit. So little that we know about history and so little we know period. We think we know how things work because of a little scientific “proof.” There is so much we don’t know. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy paths. I’ve learned some things from what I’ve suffered because I’ve leaned on the Lord’s understanding of it, He’s shared a little of it with me. It’s personal. It’s pretty much the same for all of us no matter what we are afflicted with. I don’t have a problem with the fact that GAS’s life history with all the gory details of his struggles with what can be perceived as depression and anxiety is not included in the church manuals. It’s okay. It’s personal. Some things we share, some things we keep. The spirit can guide us to know the when the what and the how much. We don’t know everything. I’m okay with that. The Lord knows me. He knows what I need to know. I trust Him. I feel happy when I can. I don’t take that emotion lightly.

  118. Clark – thank you for your response which highlights for me what I consider to be the crux of the problem, namely, why is it that the validity of our own spiritual experiences depend so crucially on Joseph Smith having had his in the way we suppose? Would our experiences be somehow invalidated if Joseph’s visions happened quite differently than the way we describe them?

    I am painfully well aware that I hold a heretical minority position in this regard, but I do think that as issues of historicity become stumbling blocks for more and more people this issue will become much more pronounced. The chasm that exists between the literal interpretation of visions and other approaches seems too wide to be reconciled which is a shame.

    It always seemed to me that that what was beautiful, meaningful, and valuable about Mormonism far transcended the historicity of Mormonism or its truth claims.

  119. Favorite quote from Woodger’s article, pg 140 in the Journal of Mormon History: “George Albert’s father even took the unusual step of sending him “a dozen bottles of Basses Pale Ale,” a British beer, assuring him that he had Joseph F. Smith’s “endorsement” to drink it in the hopes that it would “tone up your stomach and put you in a condition to receive and assimilate food.”85+George Albert did not record whether he tried this treatment.”

  120. Glass Ceiling says:

    Physical illness makes mental illness harder, and mental illness makes physical illness harder. Insufficient medication and therapy makes them all harder. And sociatal misunderstanding makes everything harder.
    Remember now, regarding people with health problems…your bad days are their good days. President G.A.Smith did double-duty : physical AND mental disability. A perpetual nightmare, I’m sure. And he still ran the Church and was a prophet. He deserves a special place in Church history just on his own terms. In other words, HE deserves for us to know. And we could use the inspiration…for a number of reasons.

    Yes, the people of his time were in the dark regarding mental illness. But guess what? We still are.

  121. “In other words, HE deserves for us to know.”

    That is profound. Thank you.

  122. whizzbang says:

    One thing to remember is Brent L. Top-Religion prof at BYU- also had depression and it seemed to have gotten worse when he became a mission president in Illinois. He wrote a book about it

  123. In #66 James concluded…
    ” Remember when they presented Brigham Young as monogamous?”
    Actually I don’t remember. IMO this is a good example of what Wikipedia refers to as “weasel words.”

  124. Glass Ceiling says:

    Thanks Ray.

    Allow me to expand on my last point about our society remaining in the dark regarding mental illness. Many people seem to believe that mental illness only involves drooling idiots and axe murderers. In reality, the varieties of mental illness are far and wide. 99% of people with mental illness are normal people ….people who have to go out and make a living and support themselves every day. Yet they have this dirty secret that can kill a promotion, or create horrible gossip among cohorts. In Mormonland it can kill reputations on a ward or stake level. Lest we forget, most Mormons are expert gossipists.

    We get varied amounts of truth and wisdom in Church these days. And if it’s worth presenting a prophet’s life at all, it’s worth doing right. And as had been nuanced all though this thread, we could sure use his heroic hardship as a way in which to learn to love and respect others who may now suffer as he did. It just kinda seems like a no-brainer…shooting fish in a barrel and whatnot. The writers blew a monumental opportunity. Just sayin’.

  125. Physical illness makes mental illness harder, and mental illness makes physical illness harder. Insufficient medication and therapy makes them all harder. And sociatal misunderstanding makes everything harder.

    Glass Ceiling,
    Wow, I could not agree more. Thank you for putting into words something I have been trying to articulate for years.

  126. Cleone Cannon says:

    Very interesting!

  127. Ted Jr., as I recall, Brigham’s polygamous marriages were described by a sentence that read something like, “After Mary Ann’s death, Brigham Young remarried.”

    That is not an outright lie, but it certainly doesn’t begin to tell the truth.

  128. I misremembered. Here’s what it says about Brigham’s marriages after his first marriage to Miriam:

    “On 18 February 1834 he married Mary Ann Angell; over the next 10 years, six children were born into their family. Mary Ann, Brigham recorded, “labored faithfully for the interest of my family and the kingdom” (MHBY-1, 8).”

    That’s it. No other wives or children are mentioned. Looks suspiciously like portraying him as a monogamist.

    Here’s the link, if you’d like to check:

  129. From the future Teachings of President Nixon manual:

    “Following his visit to China, President Nixon enjoyed several years of productive interaction with Congress.”

  130. Glass Ceiling says:


    You don’t happen to be a disabled veteran, by chance?

  131. Nope. Not a veteran and not disabled. I just have been dealing with a challenging autoimmune disease the past 5 years.

  132. Glass Ceiling says:


    I’m sorry to hear that. I have some drama myself. Spinal issues.

  133. This has been a very interesting thread on an interesting topic. While I have had members of my own family stricken with mental illness and I do understand the stigma that still accompanies mental illness I am confident that, for whatever reason, our Church leaders have chosen not to include President Smith’s struggles with his own mental health issues in our curriculum of study. Knowing that these manuals are designed and created through divine inspiration leads me to believe that what is found in their pages is what we should be teaching in our classes. If we introduce any information outside of the curriculum materials then we are not sustaining our priesthood leaders, which, when thought about, is a question asked of us in our temple recommend interviews.

  134. Thank you for the update. It’s really good to have that info.

  135. I am warmed by such an excellent resource; many thanks to all. Thanks especially to Greg Smith. Most excellent comments. Were you a med student ca. 1974 at the U of U?

    I am surprised that some question the doctrine that God gives us trials. I don’t know any other way to understand the clear gospel teachings. C.f., Hebrews 12. I will suggest there are ineluctable blessing accruing from such trials. I will suppose they are not currently clear, but after all, Paul makes that clear in verse 11.

  136. Mark Brown says:

    133 FTL

  137. Thank you, Sondra. Would you please come to my ward, and help me police the orthodoxy of the teachers? Not two weeks ago, my Gospel Doctrine teacher shared a story that contained elements I didn’t recognize from the manual. I promptly walked out of the class, for I know the Spirit cannot abide in an environment where non-curriular points are made.

  138. 136 FTW

    Between RS and SS today a ward member pulled me aside and asked whether it was true that Pres GAS had spent some time in a sanitarium for mental health issues. I don’t know where she heard it — it was clear from our conversation that she wasn’t familiar either with the JMH article or the current blog discussions, but I don’t know where she had picked it up. I explained briefly what I knew. She was relieved to know it, and told me she had struggled with clinical depression for her whole life, and being told repeatedly that if she just had enough faith and prayed hard enough it would all go away. For her, knowing that an apostle had struggled with related issues, regardless of whether their symptoms or their origin were at all alike, was an enormous relief. Surely GAS had prayed and fasted and read his scriptures and everything else she had been told to do, yet he still suffered. Her similar failure to gain relief was not a moral failure or a lack of faith, nor did it make her unworthy of anything. She knew that already, of course, but having me confirm GAS’s struggles reassured her.

    It is, I think, precisely my ward member and others like her whom J. had in mind when he suggested that an opportunity had been missed by omitting this part of GAS’s story.

    So take away my temple recommend for answering my ward member’s question and for listening to her experiences. That, or because I cited a JRHolland comment in SS that came neither from the conference talks nor the scriptures or other formal curriculum materials. I failed to sustain Elder Holland because I quoted him, you know.

  139. StillConfused says:

    It is really too bad that the Church insists on whitewashing its past. It really makes it harder to have confidence in what is said when you know that so much is not being said. Why not just admit it and move on? Especially in this case, where GAS didn’t even do anything wrong. He had a special challenge… we all have those… some are mental; some are physical; some are situational. Trying to pretend that these men were all perfect just makes it all the more painful when you find out the truth. I often find the cover up or the white washing much more painful than the actual thing that is being hidden.

  140. I am confident that, for whatever reason, our Church leaders have chosen not to include President Smith’s struggles with his own mental health issues in our curriculum of study.

    I’m confident that our Church manuals do not specifically include mention of Pres. Smith’s mental health issues, but I’m not confident that any particular Church leader made that decision, though, especially given that they don’t write the manuals, and that members of the Correlation committee (unnamed) write them, and then the lessons are approved or not by Church leaders. I’m also confident that I’ve spoken with people who have been involved in manual writing who don’t like the manuals at all, and in fact, have even chosen not to use them when teaching their own classes.

    Also, I call your direct attention to the manual itself, which contains the following ‘teaching suggestion’ for lesson one:

    “To help us teach from the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets, the Church has produced lesson manuals and other materials. There is little need for commentaries or other reference material”

    Note carefully that it states, very clearly, that there is “little need,” which clearly indicates there IS some need, and it does not say there is *no* need! Teachers who are called and set apart in their callings are promised the help of the Spirit in preparing their lessons, and thus, they, not you, can make the decision about what little extra material they will include.


  141. 133 – Sondra, I suspect the brethren will appreciate you dictating new temple worthiness questions. Please call them with your thoughts.

  142. #133- Sorry, Sondra, the lessons are written by committee, not by the First Presidency. And, Mark Hoffman’s forgeries got written into some lessons before they were discovered to fraudulent.

    Also, there is a wonderful site on disabilities by the Church:

    Note that Mental Illness is a subject there:

  143. the Church insists on whitewashing its past

    Oh, bull. In this specific case, there’s not the slightest reason to suppose “whitewashing.” GAS’s records and writings and those of his associates don’t discuss mental health issues. Recognition of those issues by his biographer has come only many years after the fact, with greater awareness and familiarity with illnesses and symptoms. Under those conditions, there’s no reason to suppose that the manual writers/approvers were even aware of the matter, that they consciously chose to omit it, or that the omission was a deliberate effort to polish the president’s image or protect the church’s image.

    As J. noted, it was a missed opportunity. Acknowledging the missed opportunity does nothing to establish whitewashing. It’s too bad that that nasty, lazy assumption is the one so often turned to by those who know so very little about history or pedagogy.

  144. Those who suggest that the writers of the GAS manual have “missed an opportunity” should probably keep in mind that these manuals are written for a world-wide audience, with many different cultural attitudes. Some of those attitudes are not nearly as “enlightened” as we are today.

    Personally, I would have preferred that his depression and anxiety be addressed and explained, as I did in my priesthood lesson today. But I also recognize that I have no idea what the fall out might be in other places around the world. Given our own attitudes in the U.S. towards mental illness even today, I suspect that a small minority may have lost faith in what GAS said, at least, if not in the Church itself.

    That’s not an enlightened or correct view, I’m sure. BUT we do have to start with members where they are now, not where they should be.

    I’m not trying to defend the decision, just remind us all that in the shoes of the brethren these decisions may look very different than what they seem to us today.

  145. Steve Evans says:

    Kent, odds are pretty good that most countries outside the U.S. have a better attitude towards mental illness than we do. The “dumb it down for the mission field” line just doesn’t take us very far. It’s not like Heart of Darkness out there. We have no reason to believe that internationalization is the purpose for the lacuna here.

    As for “we do have to start with members where they are now, not where they should be,” is that what we’re doing now?

  146. 120 GlassCeiling – FTW

  147. It is not Elder Holland you failed to sustain when you quoted him. No one is suggesting that your temple recommend be taken away either. I am fully aware that many members of the church struggle with mental illness and that this knowledge about GAS ‘s struggle is uplifting to them and gives them hope. My best friend struggles with chronic chemical depression and my own mother had schizophrenic and paranoic tendencies, both members of the church. So I am sympathetic with the plight of those suffering from mental illness. What I said, and will continue to stand by, is that when we teach lessons in church we need to stick to the approved curriculum, as directed in Handbook 2: Administering the Church. That is what I meant by sustaining our leaders, who obviously were inspired to include or not include certain materials in the lesson manuals.

    Also, for omoplata, I am not suggesting new temple recommend questions. It is inherent in the questions when we are asked if we sustain the prophet as the president of the church, the other general authorities and our local priesthood leaders. I am aware that lessons for manuals are written by committees, I am aware that these lessons and manuals are then approved by the First Presidency/General authorities. I am not a dunce. I have served as the president of many stake and ward auxiliaries in the church. I have learned a great deal about administering in the church from those expereinces and from having a husband who served as a bishop for 8 years and in the stake presidency for five.

    And for Bhodges, you must be an attorney – trained to look for any loophole you can find that allow you to proceed in the manner you desire. Just because the direction says there is “little need” doesn’t give a teacher in the church license to abandon the approved curriculum for information THEY desire to share even if they were members of themanual/lesson committees and aren’t happy with the finished product.

  148. Steve Evans says:

    ” I am not a dunce. I have served as the president of many stake and ward auxiliaries in the church.”

    Sondra, I hope you see how the latter does not prove the former!

    From the conversation here, I doubt anyone is advocating abandoning the approved curriculum. Seems to me we’re discussing ways we can help adapt the message of the lessons to suit the needs of our quorums. There’s nothing wrong with that — in fact it’s required.

    Finally, this: “you must be an attorney – trained to look for any loophole you can find that allow you to proceed in the manner you desire”

    Care to retract that little statement, madame?

  149. And for Bhodges, you must be an attorney – trained to look for any loophole you can find that allow you to proceed in the manner you desire. Just because the direction says there is “little need” doesn’t give a teacher in the church license to abandon the approved curriculum for information THEY desire to share even if they were members of themanual/lesson committees and aren’t happy with the finished product.

    Objection, your honor. I didn’t say anyone ought to “abandon the approved curriculum,” I referred to some of the writers of previous manuals who chose to do so, though. I pointed out that the manual doesn’t outright forbid the use of things outside the printed manual, in fact, it leaves a little room. And teachers can, following the Spirit they’re promised in performing the duties connected to their callings, provide extra insights while teaching the gospel.

  150. Steve Evans says:

    P.S. BHINAL.

  151. Sam Kitterman says:

    Ah, back to the days of “When the brethren have spoken, the thinking is done.”

  152. “If you are teaching a Melchizedek Priesthood or Relief Society lesson, you should not set this book aside or prepare lessons from other materials.” p. vi in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church – George Albert Smith manual. Seeking the guidance of the Spirit is talked about in the directions on teaching from this book also, but it clearly states that we need to “prayerfully select from the chapter those teachings that you feel will be most helpful to those you teach.” I fail to see how much more direct this instruction can be. And I don’t see anywhere in this manual where we are invited to supplement the lessons with any outside material.

  153. Sondra,
    Thanks for your input here. You’re making an argument–about the use of supplementary materials–that is a very big topic and has been discussed much in these parts. You see it as a simple, clear issue–but many if not most people here think that the issue is a little bit more complicated than you’re suggesting. I invite you to step away from the keyboard for a bit–read a bit more, get to know some of the folks, and try commenting on some other topics/threads.

    I’m going to moderate any further comments related to this sub-thread, so please don’t worry about not getting the last word in.

  154. The manual does mention…in the historical timeline…that between 1909 and 1912 that Elder G. A. Smith suffered with some serious health problem. I expanded on that is my introduction to Pres. Smith. I also shared about my own mental illness. Oh, and I used bits of Kant and Aristotle to discuss Elder Smith’s 11 point “personal creed” presented in chapter one. I also used Richard Nixon as the extreme opposite of G.A.S.

    Too bad I am going to Primary next week. The 5 year old will not appreciate the references to Kant…or Nixon. Good thing I am also an expert on Pixar characters and super heroes.

  155. Kent: re the International issue, it seems to me an article could be placed in the English edition of the Ensign magazine to help spread the message, which need not be included in the Liahona. (This sort of thing already happens, IIRC the MMM article wasn’t published internationally) but I reckon this particular message isn’t on the radar of the curriculum dept. to start with.

  156. (of course, I prefer the “let them reach for it” mentality of DOM when it comes to our manuals, given that there are many cultural concerns that could arise in any given lesson, yet we forge ahead! That said, I try to keep in mind the constraints of speaking to a diverse audience.)

  157. As for me and my house, we will follow the General Conference example Elder Perry made of his sainted mother. “The dining room table would be covered with reference materials and the notes she was preparing for her lesson.” And we will cloak it in as pious and righteous language as possible, and condemn anyone who understands differently.

  158. whizzbang says:

    What I take away fom this whole issue is that If God can help Pres. Smith in his day with his issues and make something out of him then he can help me in my day with my issues and not to give up. This lesson is also taught in 1 Nephi 17, if God can help the ancient Israelites do everything they did then God can help Nephi construct a ship-same idea

  159. We are talking about a missed opportunity in the manual, since we use the manual. We’re wishing it had been mentioned in the manual, since we use the manual. Just saying.

  160. Exactly, Ray. Thank you. And on that note, I thank all the commenters for the useful comments, and we’re going to close this one down.

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