Myths About Mental Illness

I was impressed with Elder Alexander B. Morrison’s article, “Myths about Mental Illness,” in the October Ensign. His comments make a lot of sense based on my interactions with some amazing and wonderful Latter-day Saints who have struggled with mental illness caused by a variety of factors. As a Church, we have a lot of progress to make in better ministering to and helping those who struggle with such challenges. Getting rid of some common myths is a first step.

Previously, I have made my own suggestions for Church leaders regarding mental illness. I welcome further suggestions and ideas.

The most important thing here is working better to help our brothers and sisters in the Church who suffer with illnesses and disabilities of all kinds. Very few of us are completely whole – in fact, we may all need some compassion and help as we face illnesses of various kinds in our lives. Let’s be better prepared to help.

As a secondary issue and in all seriousness – I don’t mean this as a jab at anybody – I think we also need to recognize signs of mental illness in some (a minority!) of the self-proclaimed enemies we may deal with. When we understand that someone’s extreme hostility may be an expression of a deeper issue, such as past child abuse or a chemical imbalance, rather than merely a theological disagreement or a logical response to concerns about Mormonism, then we may realize that engaging in debate is futile, and may be able to reach out to the person or help them in other ways. (For example, I for one have been too quick to engage in debate with others when it was the wrong thing or wrong time for that person. Sometimes silence, a change of topic, compassion, or even a good meal are much better alternatives.)


Author: Jeff Lindsay

18 thoughts on “Myths About Mental Illness

  1. This article is the Ensign article I referred to in one of my posts under Mormanity’s original post of October 25. I echo the recommendation to read it.

  2. Thanks for sharing this link, Jeff. The article is very, very good, and hopefully will help dispel the persistent myths among Latter-day Saints that mental illness is a punishment for sin and something that can be cured with righteous living and priesthood blessings.

    I’ve previously shared my family’s struggle with our son’s AD/HD. My wife has also struggled with depression for much of her life, and it got much worse after the birth of our second child. Medication has been a blessing, and has literally kept our family from falling apart. I’m glad that the stigma our society imposes on those taking psychoactive medication is fading away.

  3. I recall when I was on my mission, I had a companion (lets call him Elder G) that was having some problems in the way of mental illness. I don’t think they were super serious, but what sparked the problem was his previous companion (who probably was also mentally ill), companion was a task master among other things. From what I gathered, he wasn’t too compassionate towards him either. When Elder G came to be with me, the Mission President had suggested that he see a psychiatrist. I went with him a few times and he was given some medication to help him.

    He did begin to feel better and I think the rest of his mission went well. I am greatful that our mission President had the insight to have him get help from other sources rather than just telling him to “pray and work hard”.

    I can’t help to think that the reason why Elder G was assigned to me in the first place was because I am pretty laid back, probably nothing like his previous companion.

  4. I agree that this article is very good. I really do hope that people will open their minds to mental illness. I know many people that do believe that mental illness is a choice. It saddens me to no end to hear this type of ignorance.

    My daughter is bipolar and has OCD, and despite all of her challenges (she is only 12) she is able to attend school like every other child, and is doing excellently. She doesn’t have any adaptations for her, and this is all possible because of medication.

    I find it very frustrating when people will ask me when she will be able to go off her medications. I just try and explain to them that much like a diabetic will need insulin for life, she will most likely need medications for life. I also explain that bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain and in fact one medication she was on previously was originally utilized for seizures to stabalize the chemicals in the brain, and it was discovered that a side effect was (at a much lower dose)it stabalized bipolar disorder as well.

    Hopefully, people will start to see mental health problems as they truly are a physical illness, it’s not just in the person’s head.

  5. I’m a “less active” person who has chronic major depression. I happened on the article when looking at the Ensign on the website last weekend. It’s a really great article and demolishes a lot of myths surrounding those of us who struggle with depression on a daily basis. I am personally very appreciative for this article.

  6. In response to Mike’s post, I’m not so sure the stigma on medication, depression, or other chronic health issues has faded to a great extent in the Church,, at least in my experience. My wife has been through the ringer with her physical and mental health over the past few years, and one thing I have learned is that unless you have had such conditions, or lived with someone who has, you have no idea what the individual or family has to go through. We have encountered people at Church who really don’t get it, but fortunately have had very understanding and caring priesthood leaders. In addition to medication, counseling can do wonders to help people get through things like this.

  7. Thinking about it, I have always found that, among many conservatives, the issues of mental health are often taken lightly. I’m not sure that this problem is any different within the church than it is without it. I agree that more should be done to help change the idea that mental health is “All in your head”, so to speak.

  8. “…one thing I have learned is that unless you have had such conditions, or lived with someone who has, you have no idea what the individual or family has to go through.”

    Amen, JoelH.

    When I was growing up, if someone in my family was grouchy or upset over something, my mother would say, “Hey! Get over it!”

    Her call to take responsibility for my own happiness was a good one, but it made it nearly impossible for me to understand my wife’s condition. It took years of struggling and arguing before I finally realized that she can’t just “get over it” — chemicals in her brain prevent her from choosing to be happy.

  9. At the risk of getting assigned to the “ignorant” crowd, I feel the need to point out that medication isn’t always the answer.

    Both my wife and I have mental illness in our families, and I had several mission companions who struggled with mental illness. Medication can work wonders, but it does not magically fix peoples’ problems. It simply (once you finally find the right one) restores the balance that allows people to control their thinking and lives again.

    I think it is just as dangerous to assume that all mental problems can be fixed with medicine as to assume the opposite. The people I’ve known who beat mental illness, especially depression, are the ones who take their medicine, if necessary, but also stop destructive habits that aggravate it. These can range from things like gluttony (360+ pounds worth) to actual sin. However, I’d be really, really careful about judging someone’s destructive behaviors as cause, not effect!

    In the end, I guess we just need to be careful that psychoactive drugs are used to enhance the agency of the patient, not mask it. No medicine can help a person who refuses to take control of their life. I’m just glad I don’t have to be the one to sort out who’s really “trying” and who’s not — our job is to love and support, not judge.

  10. I agree that medication needs to be only a “part” of the treatment for someone with Mental health; However, an awareness needs to be made to people that for most people with serious mental health problems medication is an integral part.

    It really depends on the mental health disorder. As for a bipolar disorder, this disorder can be so severe that medication is the only way a person can be stable enough to function. While, with my daughter’s OCD cognitive behavioral therapy along with medication can help her. OCD causes an irrational thought process that my daughter is able to identify as irrational, but it is very challenging ot fight the thought process without the help of medication at least at first.

    Here is an example of what my daughter said it felt like to fight the thoughts (compulsions) she would have with OCD. Ok, before she was on medication one of the OCD things she would do is count the number of letters in every word someone would say to her. She compared the need to do that with the worst itch you can imagine and trying not to scratch it.

    Also, my daughter had schizoid (sp?) tendencies. Essentially, her mind would create images that she would see, even though she knew they weren’t there. Of course they weren’t of rainbows and butterflies, but of things that frightened her – so she couldn’t sleep. Now logically she knew these things weren’t there, but she was living in a tortured state and couldn’t eat or sleep from anxiety.

    So, for her medication is a miracle. She no longer sees things, her moods are stable, and her OCD is mostly under control. Ultimately, this child went from living in a nightmare to being a happy, well adjusted A/B student.

    Yes, I agree medication should be given cautiously, but sometimes medication is absolutely necessary.

  11. Is God powerless?
    Its sad that we as Latter Day Saints have turned to medications for relief from mental illness. My wife committed suicide on prozac 11 years ago. I believe the drug assisted her in doing so. Her diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder 1 with rapid cycling. We have 4 children with the same illness and just as severe. Today they no longer exhibit any symptoms of the disorder. Three are married, they all work and function as the good Lord intended them to do so. No drugs… no symptoms… no hospitalizations… only stability and health

    Meanwhile back at the ranch in Utah state, LDS members suicide more often than the U.S. national average, take twice as many antidepressants per capita than any other state including the states of California and New York. (According to an Express Scripts study).

    The Feb 19th 2005 British Medical Journal published the results of 702 studies using antidepressants: What did it show – With 702 studies reporting and 87,000 patients – suicide risk doubled using SSRI antidepressant medications versus placebo or sugar pills. Every year 11 – 15% of LDS missionaries are sent home early because of mental issues, inspite of being medicated. LDS family break up in the church is at an all time high with many cases due to a mental problem in the family.

    Having seen the effects of medication treatment and done all that, I would say that what we are doing as a people is not working and its high time to start looking heavenward for an answer… unless of course we believe our God to be powerless!

  12. Your statistics about use of antidepressants in Utah are founded on completely false and unreliable evidence. Look deeper, please.

  13. anthony stephan,
    I also have bipolar disorder type I, and the megavitamin route did not work for me. You may think you have a cure all for everyone, but you do not. You know just enough to be dangerous to some of us. On megavitamins, I began to sink back into a depression when I had just gotten up through medications from being suicidal. You say prozac caused your wife’s suicide, and maybe so, but telling people to quit their medications can kill as well as taking the wrong medication can.

  14. I was a missionary who returned home early because of OCD. I have been home nearly two years, and it has been difficult telling people why I returned early. I have no confidence to ask girls out on dates because when I tell them I returned home early (medical release) that is the end of discussion. I also take medication which has really helped me, but I had to take a number of medications before I found the medication that worked for me. I would just say love all who struggle with mental health issues, I have felt alone many times and it helps tremendously when there is support. I have been lucky to have priesthood leaders who are understanding.

  15. I believe most of you are missing the point. No one has asked why a high percentage of LDS members are emotionally and psychologically unstable.

  16. I returned home early because of mental illness. To this day [8 months later] I am stll shaken up inside, at times, as to whethe ror not I was just a wimp or actually bipolar. The evidence is clear that I needed to go home and if I re-read my journal it’s all there, but the doubt will always be there too. I think half or more of the battle with these issues is helping the vistim identify the problem. All my life I never wanted to be one of these people so badly that I had totally convinced myself from childhood that I didn’t have any of these kind of problems. This pride has made coping with apparent failure and early return all the more difficult. A process that is so damning already with the social response any early-returned misisonary will encounter. Honorable realease or not. And like the post a little above me I have lost all self-confidence in teh dating realm. Which is actually a big deal because I dated a lot before my misison. Now I am just a shell. An exile.

  17. I like Elder Morrison's article. It gives sound advice about dealing with mental health issues. I feel that it is very positive to open the lid on such issues. I have started to blog at in relation to my experiences. I think greater openness can help.

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