Found in the Footnotes: How Sister Aburto Changed the Way I View Depression

Editor's Note: Our weekly Friday column, “Found in the Footnotes,” explores some of the footnotes from remarks given by General Authorities and general officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I believe the October 2019 women's session of general conference was historic. Yes, President Russell M. Nelson announced new temples in the women's session for the first time ever, but that wasn't all that stood out to me. 

To me, the women's session was historic because of Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto's talk, "Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!

Sister Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, brought compassion to a subject in a personalized way that I believe has never been done before from the Conference Center pulpit as she shared the story of her own father's suicide. It was groundbreaking. It was courageous.

But the power of her talk didn’t end for me in October. In fact, I’ve turned to her talk multiple times over the last few months because of how much I gain by studying the scriptures she references. 

These are just five of my takeaways.

Feelings are divine

Perhaps my favorite insight from Sister Aburto’s talk is that feelings aren’t a failing of mortality, nor are they a sign of weakness. They are part of our divine nature.

In her address, Sister Aburto says, “Like our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, we have a physical body and experience emotions.”

Scriptures in the footnotes point us to times when the feelings of God and the Savior were identified: God rejoices (Isaiah 65:19); the Lord has compassion (Luke 7:13); God weeps (Moses 7:28).

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ experience emotions, and if we learn to recognize our emotions we can learn more about our divine potential. 

“Learning to identify and value our emotions can help us use them constructively to become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Sister Aburto says in the footnote.

Depression can blind us 

Sister Aburto began her talk with an analogy of being on a plane as it approached a storm.

“Looking out the window, I could see a dense blanket of clouds below us,” she said. “The rays of the setting sun reflected off the clouds, causing them to shine with intense brightness. Soon, the plane descended through the heavy clouds, and we were suddenly enveloped in a thick darkness that completely blinded us to the intense light we had witnessed just moments earlier.”

She then goes on to explain the black clouds (including depression and anxiety) that form in our lives. 

In the footnotes, she added this insight: “When we were above the clouds, we could not visualize the darkness that lay just a few feet below us, and when we were enveloped in the darkness underneath, it was difficult to visualize the radiance of the sun that shone just a few feet above us."

If someone is in the throes of depression, they may not be able to see a light at the end of a tunnel, just as someone in the light may not see the unexpected darkness ahead. 

► You may also like: Latter-day Saint Psychologist: What Sister Aburto Reminded Me About Fearing Weakness

Depression can come from positive life changes

“In some cases, the cause of depression or anxiety can be identified, while other times it may be harder to discern,” Sister Aburto said in her talk.

In the footnote, she points out how these sources that are harder to discern may not be what one expects.

“Depression can also result from positive life changes—such as the birth of a child or a new job—and can occur when things are good in a person’s life,” she writes.

Whether or not it's possible to identify the source, depression happens, and it's not something we have to go through by ourselves. 

Sometimes we can’t fix depression alone

In her remarks, Sister Aburto discusses the suicide of her father. She witnesses how she has felt the Savior’s healing power on both sides of the veil. In her footnote, she talks about how we don’t have to heal alone.

“When there is a problem, our tendency is to fix it. However, we do not have to become sole fixers of ourselves or of others. We do not have to do everything ourselves. On more than one occasion in my life, I have sought therapists to help me deal with difficult times.”

She also shares a quote from Elder Richard G. Scott, “The beginning of healing requires childlike faith in the unalterable fact that Father in Heaven loves you and has supplied a way to heal. His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, laid down His life to provide that healing. But there is no magic solution, no simple balm to provide healing, nor is there an easy path to the complete remedy. The cure requires profound faith in Jesus Christ and in His infinite capacity to heal.”

► You may also like: Church Releases Video Series on Sister Aburto's Life (+ What the General Relief Society Presidency Says About Her Trials)

It’s not your fault

“It is important to recognize that depression is not the result of weakness, nor is it usually the result of sin,” Sister Aburto declares in her talk. This sentence leads to a reference in John 9:1–7, the story of the man blind from birth. The Savior testifies, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

I loved applying this concept to depression. Sister Aburto’s scriptural connection to a physical illness magnified the meaning of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s words, “These afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.”

There should be no shame in depression and maybe the reason some struggle through it is so “the works of God should be made manifest.”

Why it matters

Shortly after she delivered a message, Sister Aburto shared a post on Facebook and explained why there are so many footnotes:

“Have you ever prepared a Sunday lesson and had way more information than you could possibly share in one class? That’s exactly how I felt when I prepared my talk for the women’s session of general conference! There were many scriptures, talks, and publications I wanted to share, but I didn’t have time. That’s why the endnotes are extensive. My hope is that if you want to know more about how to cope with emotional issues, you will find in there inspired resources that can guide you.”

These are just some insights gained from five of the footnotes of Sister Aburto’s talk. There are still 41 holding treasures that I think you’ll love. In her Facebook post, Sister Aburto encouraged all to gain an understanding of emotional and mental health concerns.

“Hopefully, as we reach for the Savior’s grace and support each other in our struggles, our burdens will be lighter and we may even be able to prevent much suffering in our children, our youth and the people we love.”

Lead image: Intellectual Reserve, Inc. 

Image title"The worst part of depression," writes Jane Clayson Johnson, "is the profound isolation it engenders, not just from the Spirit but from family, friends, and community." Sharing our stories is the first step toward ending that isolation. This important book opens the door for a new level of honesty and helpfulness, both for those who suffer from depression and for their family members, friends, and Church leaders. Silent Souls Weeping is available now at Deseret Book stores and at DeseretBook.com


Lindsey Williams

Lindsey Williams joined the LDS Living team with a passion to find the stories that matter most. Previous stops in her career include BYU-Pathway Worldwide, the Special Projects Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah Valley Magazine. When she's not searching for stories to write, the Colorado Springs native is most likely on a hiking trail. 

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