One in four people worldwide will be affected by mental illness or neurological disorders at one point in their lives.
And right now, about 450 million people worldwide suffer from the often crippling effects of mental illness regardless of race, socio-economic class, gender, education level, occupation, or religion.
With so many suffering from the wide effects of mental illness, the topic has been addressed by prophets and general authorities. Of these, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently shared a powerful general conference talk about mental illness, "Like a Broken Vessel," in which he confronted the growing epidemic of mental illness head-on.
As the rate of mental illness among everyone, including Church members, continues to grow, the words of Church leaders offer comfort and guidance for those experiencing various forms of mental illness. Here are few things Church leaders have said about mental illness and those who experience it.
Overcoming Mental Illness Is not a Matter of "Positive Thinking" and "Squaring Your Shoulders"
In his October 2013 talk "Like a Broken Vessel," Elder Holland addresses the persistent but often incorrect idea that overcoming mental illnesses like depression or anxiety are a matter of "squaring your shoulders" and "think[ing] more positively".
Though these tactics certainly are useful for the occasional bouts of discouragement and sadness everyone feels from time to time, mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are not the same thing and should not be treated as such. As Elder Holland said:
. . . I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!
No, this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Like a Broken Vessel").
As Elder Holland says in his talk, mental illness is as real as other medical conditions like high blood pressure or a malignant tumor. Though peace, comfort, and strength can be found in priesthood blessings, seeking counsel from others, reading the scriptures, and praying, it is important to also seek help from certified professionals if the symptoms of mental illness persist. As Elder Holland said in his talk:
If things continue to be debilitating, seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give and the solutions they prescribe. If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Like a Broken Vessel").
God Still Loves You and You Are Never Alone
The effects of mental illness often leave its victims in a fog, unable to think clearly or be the kind of person they used to be. This can be a lonely, frustrating experience that can make members wonder if they are still worthy of Heavenly Father's love.
In his October 2013 general conference talk "We Never Walk Alone," President Thomas S. Monson shares the power of Heavenly Father's love we can experience even while going through the trials of mental illness.
My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there (President Monsons, "We Never Walk Alone").
After Elder Dallin H. Oaks's father passed away and he was sent to live with his grandparents while his mother went to school, Elder Oaks shared his experience with mental illness.
During this difficult time, which was also especially hard on Elder Oaks's mother, he described the heavenly help that came in a dark time for his family.
The death of my father and my mother's going away so soon were difficult experiences for me. When I was about 9 years old, I remember thinking there was nobody in the world as unhappy as I was.
For my mother, the loss of her husband and then the separation from her three children within a two month period were too much, and mother suffered a nervous breakdown. She was told she would never recover. But through the blessings of the Lord, she did recover and she was stronger than ever (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "LDS Leaders and Mental Illness," Mormon Channel).
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In his October 2015 general conference address, Elder Oaks also shares how members with mental illness are never alone because of the Savior's Atonement in which he experienced all our earthly afflictions, including mental illness.
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus explained that He was sent “to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18). The Bible often tells us of His healing people “of their infirmities” (Luke 5:15; 7:21). The Book of Mormon records His healing those “that were afflicted in any manner” (3 Nephi 17:9). The Gospel of Matthew explains that Jesus healed the people “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:17).
Isaiah taught that the Messiah would bear our “griefs” and our “sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). Isaiah also taught of His strengthening us: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:10) (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Strengthened by the Atonement of Jesus Christ").
You Are More Than Your Mental Illness
President George Albert Smith, the eighth prophet of the Church, struggled with anxiety and depression.
One of President George Albert Smith's grandsons, George Albert Smith the fifth, said his grandfather "struggled with depression, feeling incompetent, and being overwhelmed. There were times when 'he just could not pull it all together,'" according to Mormon Channel.
Despite these enormous challenges, President George Albert Smith was a "universally beloved" prophet and "one of the most gentle and Christlike men of our dispensation" as Elder Holland described in his talk.
. . . let us remember that through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still much in life to be hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions! (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Like a Broken Vessel").
In his October 2013 general conference talk, Elder Holland shared his own experience with mental illness. Despite the challenges and trials that come with mental illness, Elder Holland shares the help he received from God and loved ones that helped him overcome debilitating symptoms.
At one point in our married life when financial fears collided with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real. With the grace of God and the love of my family, I kept functioning and kept working, but even after all these years I continue to feel a deep sympathy for others more chronically or more deeply afflicted with such gloom than I was. In any case we have all taken courage from those who, in the words of the Prophet Joseph, “search[ed] … and contemplate[d] the darkest abyss” and persevered through it. . . (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Like a Broken Vessel").
Though mental illness can be overwhelming and all-consuming, there is hope that there is so much more to live than the gloom of mental illness.
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Hold on to Hope
In her October 2016 general women's session address "The Master Healer," Sister Carole M. Stephens shared a particularly poignant story about holding on to hope during mental illness.
The story was about Josie, a woman with a bipolar disorder.
One day, when Josie was suffering what she called one of her "floor days" where it was difficult to get up and function, she had this incredible experience:
“As a long hour continued, my mom whispered over and over and over again, ‘I would do anything to take this from you.’
“Meanwhile, the darkness intensified, and when I was convinced I could take no more, just then something marvelous occurred.
“A transcendent and wonderful power suddenly overtook my body. Then, with a ‘strength beyond my own,’ I declared to my mom with great conviction seven life-changing words in response to her repeated desire to bear my pain. I said, ‘You don’t have to; Someone already has.’”
From the dark abyss of debilitating mental illness, Josie summoned the strength to testify of Jesus Christ and of His Atonement.
She was not healed completely that day, but she received the light of hope in a time of intense darkness. And today, supported by a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and refreshed daily by the Savior’s living water, Josie continues on her journey toward healing and exercises unshakable faith in the Master Healer. She helps others along the way. And she says, “When the darkness feels unremitting, I rely on the memory of His tender mercies. They serve as a guiding light as I navigate through hard times.” (Carole M. Stephens, "The Master Healer").
Though mental illness can come with excruciating symptoms where sometimes all hope seems to be lost, pressing forward and holding on to hope can bring light into our lives over time.
As President Ezra Taft Benson said in his October 1974 general conference address "Do Not Despair":
To press on in noble endeavors, even while surrounded by a cloud of depression, will eventually bring you out on top into the sunshine. Even our master Jesus the Christ, while facing that supreme test of being temporarily left alone by our Father during the crucifixion, continued performing his labors for the children of men, and then shortly thereafter he was glorified and received a fullness of joy. While you are going through your trial, you can recall your past victories and count the blessings that you do have with a sure hope of greater ones to follow if you are faithful. And you can have that certain knowledge that in due time God will wipe away all tears and that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9) (President Ezra Taft Benson, "Do Not Despair").
Though mental illnesses and their effects are real, it's important to not underestimate the power of the gospel in our lives and the hope it can bring. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says in the Church video "Like a Broken Vessel," the gospel can have a healing power in lives as we live with hope in its teachings.
You think you're a broken vessel and lo and behold in the miracle of the gospel you get your vessel healed, whole, put back together. And that's the hope that everybody needs to have—physical illness, mental illness. And it's hope with a capital a capital "H" . . . . I'm not talking about wishful thinking. I'm talking about the docrinal hope that God's grace is sufficient, that if we come unto him, everything that is broken gets fixed. That's the great promise of the gospel (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Like a Broken Vessel").
For more resources about mental health and mental illness, visit lds.org/mentalhealth.
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Clinical depression brings turmoil, despair, and pain that can crush the well-being of its victims and their loved ones. But the merciful power of the Atonement can lift even this heavy burden.
This inspiring guide portrays the experience of the Vandagriff family, which struggled with depression for more than twenty-five years before relief came through the grace of Jesus Christ.