I’ve long been intrigued by a statement in a revelation given to Joseph Smith in September 1830. “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created” (D&C 29:34; emphasis added). For a time, this didn’t make sense to me. All things are spiritual to God? I understood how our divine destiny, missionary work, and temple service were spiritual in nature. But what of the mundane? Was making dinner spiritual? How about forming relationships or getting an education?
The more I considered, the more I realized that my understanding of that scripture was limited. All things are spiritual because the entire goal of mortality is to help us improve spiritually and become like our Father in Heaven. That’s His stated purpose as well: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
The journey to improve our mental health is a multifaceted, complex road that weaves through many disciplines. Sometimes the focus is on chemistry, finding the correct medication to help alleviate distressing symptoms. Sometimes the focus is on relationships, trying to increase trust and resolve past traumas. Sometimes the focus is on cognition, learning to recognize thoughts and reconcile them with truth. And sometimes the focus is on our spirits, receiving greater light to help us stay on the covenant path.
With a myriad of tools at our disposal, I encourage individuals to seek all available resources to help decrease suffering and increase happiness. And ultimately, as the previously referenced scripture teaches, I believe that all that we do will either help or hinder our spiritual progress. Here are three truths, taught by prophets, that can assist us in better understanding ourselves. They can provide hope, direction, and a starting point to begin forward movement and improve our mental health.
Remember Who You Are
Research shows mental health issues are increasing among today’s youth. I don’t know that anyone has a really good answer as to why this is happening. In some ways, the cause matters less than the solution. We need to create systems and tools to help the rising generation understand and cope with their struggles. In 2018, Sister Bonnie H. Cordon was sustained as the Young Women General President of the church. Later, she told of the experience she had when she received her call from President Russell M. Nelson: “As I sat on the couch with my husband, our prophet pulled his chair over, almost knee to knee with us, and looked at me with his piercing blue eyes. I wasn’t sure if my heart was racing or had completely stopped as he called me to serve as the Young Women General President. He asked a question that still echoes in my heart, ‘Bonnie, what’s the most important thing the [youth] need to know?’ I pondered for a moment and said, ‘They need to know who they are.’ ‘YES!’ he exclaimed, ‘and they need to know their purpose.’”
Understanding who we are can be helpful in finding strength to move forward. I have worked with more than ten thousand clients throughout my career. In many cases, I’ve met with people who have been stuck for years in the same emotional rut. Oft times, they repeat the same refrain. They feel as if they have no purpose. There’s no reason for them to get up in the morning. The future seems bleak and void of meaning. Although I understand why they feel that way, I also understand they are wrong. I don't mean that in a bad way, they just don’t know the truth about their situation. Because the truth is hopeful. The truth is each one of us has a divine heritage, purpose, and destiny. Like Moses, God has a work for each of us to do (see Moses 1:6). We are beloved children of heavenly parents who will do all they can to help us through difficulty and trial. Remembering those truths can spark hope where darkness has prevailed. Recognizing our divine nature can give us cause to hold our heads high. Remember who you are.
Remember How You’ve Felt
At one point in his life, Alma the Younger was both the chief judge and the prophet, being the political and spiritual leader of his people. The church was well established but the members were having difficulty keeping the commandments. Alma determined the best use of his time was to abdicate his political role and focus on his call as the prophet. He went from city to city, preaching the gospel to inspire saints to return to obedience. In his masterful sermon to the people of Zarahemla, Alma speaks of his father’s conversion and the subsequent conversion of many others. They had been born again spiritually, undergoing a powerful change that heralded the beginning of their walk on the covenant path. To those who had experienced such a transformation, Alma asked, “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26; emphasis added)
Alma invited the people to reflect on past experiences. He asked them to remember the times when they felt spiritually powerful and motivated. Perhaps by recalling former successes, they would find greater inspiration to remain faithful. The same principle holds true for mental health improvement. One of the greatest challenges with mental health issues is the power they have to overwhelm our current thinking. The days seem dark, and hope is absent. Fear abounds and clouds any prospect of better days ahead. To some, it may feel like their whole existence—past, present, and future—is miserable. But we’ve all had better times in former days. Each of us has experienced some measure of happiness and peace at some point.
For certain, sometimes those memories are in short supply, but they are there for those who look diligently. Remembering good things of the past can help disrupt negative thinking patterns. Consider the difference between these two thoughts: “I’ve never been happy and never will be” vs. “I’ve had happier times in the past, right now I’m less happy, but I may be happier in the future.” The first thought is rigid and leaves no room for hope. Additionally, in almost every case it is untrue. The second thought is more measured and accurate. Most importantly, it leaves room for hope. Recalling accurate memories of our past and framing them alongside current experiences can help us move forward along the path to better mental health.
Remember the Savior’s Atonement
Satan, the enemy of our souls, wants nothing more than our abject misery (see 2 Nephi 2:27). He capitalizes on our shortcomings and weakness, condemning us when we fail. He calls us out with such lies as “you’ll never be good enough” or “you can’t change.” One of his most insidious deceptions is to make us believe that somehow, we have sinned our way out of the Savior’s love and compassion. This is a lie that is, unfortunately, well espoused among many saints. Such a belief leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, sadness, worthlessness, and so many other distressing experiences. Yet prophets, in their inimitable role as disruptors of Satan’s deceits, have taught to the contrary. Hear the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland as he speaks to you: “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
The Savior’s power is massive. It is infinite. A full understanding of the reach of His Atoning Sacrifice eclipses mortal comprehension. But we should not deny His mercies. We should not believe that we are excluded from His grace. The despair and fear that are characteristic of so many mental health challenges can be obliterated by the Savior’s power. I’m not suggesting He is going to come pluck you from the depths of despair and put you on a mountain of hope without any effort on your part. But He will show you the way. He’ll walk that path with you. He’ll come to you, invite you to leave where you are, and encourage you along the journey from distress to peace.
As you avail yourself of the many excellent options available for mental health improvement, please don’t leave the Savior out of this process. Trust in His power and love for you. Seek His guidance on what to do. Remember He is always there for you, regardless of anything you’ve done, and His greatest delight is to help you along the way. Never forget the truth taught by Elder Patrick Kearon, “Jesus specializes in the seemingly impossible. He came here to make the impossible possible, the irredeemable redeemable, to heal the unhealable, to right the unrightable, to promise the unpromisable. And He’s really good at it. In fact, He’s perfect at it.” God bless you in your journey.