When award-winning journalist Jane Clayson Johnson was in the depths of clinical depression, she didn’t want to talk about it. Feeling embarrassed and ashamed and living her life under the public eye, she wondered what people would think if she revealed her emotional state. But as she started to come out of that and began talking with other people, she began to realize how many people had a similar experience as her.
Now, Johnson has written a book on depression called Silent Souls Weeping and has spoken to thousands of people about the topic. In a recent episode of the Latter-day Saint Women podcast, she spoke openly about her experience with depression and why she hopes there will be more honest conversations to help overcome the stigma about the illness.
“My message is very clear. The experience of depression and mental illness is not the result of some sort of personal inadequacy, right? Nobody thinks that battling cancer or heart disease or any other serious physical condition is a matter of pulling up your bootstraps and going at it alone,” Johnson said. “You’re not gonna fix this with work and discipline. You need treatment, and just like any other physical condition, clinical depression requires treatment.”
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Johnson said the first step is to acknowledge when one is experiencing depression. Having interviewed more than 150 Latter-day Saints with depression for her book, Johnson also explained that Church members who are fighting depression have certain challenges.
“I have come to understand that members of our church face unique struggles when it comes to this, because we're trying to fit a disease manifest through sorrow and sadness and darkness into a religion centered on a beautiful plan of happiness,” she said. She added that since Latter-day Saints often believe keeping the commandments and living by the Spirit will bring feelings of happiness, those with depression may blame themselves for feeling darkness or sadness instead.
Johnson told podcast hosts Karlie Guymon and Shalyn Back that her darkest depression blocked all feelings, including those of the Spirit. Citing Doctrine and Covenants 88, she spoke about how the body and the spirit impact one another.
“We cannot separate what happens in the physical body with what happens in the spiritual soul, and my message is depression is a disease, not a spiritual deficit, and we have to treat it that way,” she said.
Sharing about one’s experiences with depression can help those who are going through similar circumstances, Johnson continued. She also shared some of her takeaways on the podcast of what she has learned from her experience with depression and interviewing those with the illness.
“God will always love you. God is always there, and even though we can't feel Him sometimes in the darkest moments of mental health crises, He's always there, and He will always be by our side, uplifting us and helping us, and I think we can't forget that, and we can't forget how His influence can shift things,” she said. “There was a quote that I heard the other day, I put it up on my refrigerator. I just love it. It says, ‘Rely on the Lord, for only He can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, and a trial into a triumph, and what’s broken into something beautiful.’
“So mental health crises are some of the most devastating and debilitating events that can happen in our lives, and what I have come to understand is that there is hope, there is healing, there is treatment, and there is a future. I think a lot of people feel helpless and hopeless, and I'm here to say that there are others who've been through this, who can help you and can extend a hand to lift you up as the Savior would lift you up in these darkest and most trying of moments.”
Listen to more of Johnson’s insights at ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Lead image courtesy of Jane Clayson Johnson
Read more from Jane Clayson Johnson on this topic in her eye-opening book, Silent Souls Weeping: Depression—Sharing Stories, Finding Hope, available at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com.