My previous post cites a passage from an author who described Nephi’s frustrated, sorrowful state with the word “depression.” I’m sure she didn’t mean depression in the clinical sense and perhaps would have used a different word today, 18 years later. Just to be clear, the illness known as depression is a complex mental and physiological condition that should not be linked to sins of the victim. It is as real and as threatening to one’s well-being as having a tumor or a severely broken leg, though others may not understand it and may simply expect the victim to “snap out of it” – an approach that is not especially helpful for most illnesses people suffer.
If you or someone you love may be struggling with depression, help them get professional help and be ready for a long and difficult journey in coping with the complex disorder.
Comments and tips would be welcome – this is one of many topics where I’m a novice.
12 thoughts on “Despair Cometh Because of Iniquity – But Don’t Blame that for Depression”
I know from personal experience that depression can be caused as a side effect of medication. My husband, as righteous a man as lives, suffered from depression, anxiety attacks and even a transient ischemic attack (short-term amnesia) as a result of taking zocor, a statin drug used for high cholesterol. Obviously depression can be a chemically-induced problem. I’m sure there are also other causes and cures totally unrelated to a person’s spiritual situation.
Thanks so much for posting this caveat. I was disturbed when I read the original quote. I thought you knew better than that and it turns out I was right.
Thank you for posting the clarification.
For those who are interested, the January 2009 issue of Ensign carried an informative essay on depression that clarifies the nature of mental illness, particularly how it negatively affects one's capacity to feel the spirit…an anomoly that baffles me.
The Brighter Side of Depression
Creativity is often associated with depression. Many of the great artists, poets and writers suffered bouts of depression from which they produced some of their greatest work. Though no great writer, I often find a certain form of creative inspiration rests upon me while I am feeling blue, and those creative endeavors are usually the most memorable and meaningful to me.
Many great statesmen suffered from depression as well. There is an interestng book called Lincoln’s Melancholy that discusses how Abraham Lincoln’s struggles with depression prepared him for the challenges of keeping the Union intact, a premise that struck me as true as I learned about his life.
Truly, out of our weaknesses can we often find great strength
As someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, I was truly blessed by a knowing doctor, a good therapist, and a very insightful branch president (who knew that he on his own couldn’t counsel me through it). My parents could not even begin to understand, and it took a long time for them to even acknowledge it was a problem.
Sometimes in Mormon culture we think that being a good church member is appearing perfect while flogging out our imperfections. My continuous journey of becoming friends with the refiner’s fire reminds me again and again that it is more about drawing nearer to the Lord while letting imperfections fall away.
Depression has made me much more apt to have compassion for others–and to be myself almost to a fault. Despite a lot of agonizing moments, I’ve been able to find a lot of truth and light. Sometimes I feel as if I am closer to the Spirit when I am depressed; probably because that is when I need the Lord more.
Sadly, I don’t know if everyone understands that my depression isn’t a result of my being a horrible sinner. Possibly because I have been in Relief Society lessons where it seems as if it is a sin if you don’t feel anything but serene joy all the time. I am chemically not wired that way, though I refuse to let that define me.
Thanks for bringing up this topic as it is near and dear to my heart. And sorry for the novel in your comments section.
I was wondering what the difference might be between a severely broken leg and a moderately broken leg…
The elements contributing to depression are varied. I have battled fairly severe depression for the past 25 years. I have also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome,and the constant sense of being disconnected from other people is a major factor–significantly, the depression began when I was a teenager and the disconnect became both more pronounced and more important. It’s a constant battle, especially at church, where the line between the social aspects and gospel principles can sometimes be blurred (for example, in our ward basketball is the fourth principle of the gospel, and those who partake not are often relegated to outer darkness). Many times I have been called to repentance and told that I need to “decide” not to let my condition affect me. However, it’s not nearly so simple. I accept it as part of my personalized curriculum and bear it the best I know how, trusting in Daddy in Heaven’s love.
Carrie Wrigley gave a great talk on depression at BYU a few years ago. You can find it at http://byubmp3.byu.edu/byui_edweek05/cwrigley.mp3. (The handouts pertaining to the CD version are at http://www.covenant-lds.com/wrigley.htm)
Wonderful comments! I had not explicitly considered depression as a blessing or tool for good before, but now that makes sense. We often find those with easy-to-understand physical defects like blindness or the loss of a leg or a terminal illness developing new strengths and capabilities through having to cope with that problem, and a refined character is often the result. Surely it can be so with those struggling with depression or various forms of mental illness. Indeed, as I consider those I know who struggle with clinical depression, I see a pattern of compassion, among other positive qualities. Further, one of the most compassionate and godly people I know was crippled for a while with a severe mental illness that still requires daily coping today. Few have any idea. Perhaps the depths of pain and despair that she faced were a vital tool in helping her become the angel that she is.
These are not things we wish on anybody, but perhaps we outsiders can begin to appreciate these afflictions as not only real and terrible, but as unwelcome refiners fires that add new gifts to the souls of those afflicted as they seek to cope as sons and daughters of a loving God.
I wonder if NM is around; he would probably have some interesting insights on impaired spirituality caused by mental illness.
I remember reading an essay by a BYU professor (sorry, forgot his name) who picked up a very nasty, but very rare, form of bacterial meningitis on a trip to Asia. The primary symptom was complete and sometimes violent insanity. During the time between onset and the doctors finally diagnosing the problem and starting antibiotics, he lived in a world where God did not exist (though Satan still did).
Both before and after the experience he was a faithful follower of Christ, and he wrote how utterly shocking it was to discover that a bacterial infection could simply erase that part of his life.
Pops: the number of pieces it’s in, I would imagine.
I have come to believe there is a chemical/biological component to spirituality; meaning chemical balances and imbalances not only affect our capacity to feel happiness, sadness, peace and joy but our capacity to feel the spirit as well. In addition to my own experiences with the physically and spiritually dulling nature of depression due largely to chemical imbalances, I have heard many stories similar to the story mentioned by Ryan in his above comment. Those who listen to Glen Beck might recall his account of descending into mental darkness and horror caused by pharmaceutical drugs given to him during a hospital visit. Though we have the ability to control our emotions and determine our happiness in life, our emotions are largely determined by our chemical and biological composition, which led one scientist to remark “there is no happiness, there is only chemical balance.” I dont entirely agree with that statement but i do find it quite an interesting idea.
Jeff, you’ll probably find this thread on Six LDS Writers & a Frog informative.
As I noted in a comment there, the best book I’ve found dealing with depression from a LDS perspective is Alexander B. Morrison’s “Valley of Sorrow: A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Mental Illness for Latter-Day Saints” (Shadow Mountain, 2003). I highly recommend it.
Mormon is talking about despair, not clinical depression as interpreted by many others. Despair is a loss of hope which indicates a damaged spiritual being. A physical loss is much different and demands a physical solution, which is action or medication.