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Psychiatric disorders in Mormon theology

A while back (Oct 05) I read a good article in the Ensign by Elder Alexander B Morrison of the Seventy about dealing with psychiatric disorders. He spoke from somewhat of a personal perspective if I remember correctly because he had a family member who struggled with mental illness. In the article Elder Morrison debunks several myths and misconceptions about mental illness. He first addresses the mistaken notion that all mental illness is caused by sin.

He writes, "The truth is that many faithful Latter-day Saints who live the commandments and honor their covenants experience struggles with mental illness or are required to deal with the intense pain and suffering of morally righteous but mentally ill family members. Their burdens—and they are many—can be lifted only by love, understanding, and acceptance."

I have had many good friends over the years who have struggled with mental illness of one kind or another - depression, mania, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction and even multiple personalities. I have suffered with them and their family members as they tried to understand and cope with the serious problems that these mental illnesses have caused.

There has also been some personal experience in this area within my own family. I have seen firsthand how debilitating it can be when, in spite of every effort to be faithful and obedient, the effects of the disorder rob the family member of peace and full enjoyment of the fruits of the gospel. Because of personal experience with this heart-breaking illness, I have studied the subject in great detail in an attempt to understand and have greater compassion.

NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill sponsors a wonderful and rich education program called Family-to-Family. I have participated in the program and came away greatly blessed for the increased understanding and knowledge gained of what mental illness is, how it affects individuals and families, and what can be done to deal with it. I highly endorse it. It clarified many things that I had previously misunderstood about the disease.

I loved the talk by Elder Oaks in General Conference last year (Oct 06) entitled, "He heals the heavy laden." He mentions mental illness as being one of the burdens that the Savior can lift and says, "Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a "healing" cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are "healed" by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us."

What do you think? Can obtaining a greater understanding of mental illness be a form of healing? It was for me.

Comments

Donnell Allan said…
I have started a blog about my own experiences as a latter-day saint with mental illness at OneBrokenOff.blogspot.com. Please--anyone--contact me there or via email at AcmeFemina@gmail.com if you come across any helpful resources I can share. Comments at the blog are also be appreciated (although there is a time-lag to posting them, as I have them moderated).

I am finding mental illness to be a particularly lonely affliction. I am hopeful that others who are feeling alone will visit my blog and find some comfort and fellowship.

Thank you for your post.
Tim Malone said…
Hi Dallan,

Thank you for visiting my blog and posting your comment. I enjoyed visiting your blogs and those of your daughters. You are all very creative and talented. I think you are also courageous to share your journey through Stage II bipolar disorder. You are not alone. My mother suffered through this all her life but more especially as she became an empty nester. She also passed some of the traits on to some of her children, including me.

I note that you are familiar with Elder Morrison's writings on this subject. I have found his advice to be some of the best, because it comes from the point of view of a priesthood leader and as the father of one who suffers mental illness. I was especially pleased to read his article in this month's Ensign, "The Spiritual Component of Healing."

In the article he points out the role of the Priesthood, the role of medicine and the role of faith as all being part of healing. Each is important and each is necessary. I like this holistic approach. In addition, he noted the role of suffering, which I too have come to appreciate over the years as being a necessary part of our mortal existence, even though I don't like it. I can't tell you how many times like Paul, I have prayed to have this thorn in my side removed.

Like you, I find suffering from this mild form of mental illness to be something that can be very lonely. There are very few within my circle of family and friends who understand what I go through. "You are so blessed. You should be so happy," they say. I am happy, but I am depressed. It is just a part of my life and always has been. I have never been suicidal, although that was a part of my mother's experience. This suffering does not go away with physical exercise, although that helps.

And yet I am hopeful. Perhaps it is because of my affliction that I am blessed with the gift of simple faith. I have never doubted the truthfulness of the gospel or the love of my Savior. I have always felt the presence of the Holy Ghost in my life, helping me through the pain of never being able to fully enjoy this life, no matter how well it seems to be going or how blessed I appear to others. One of my greatest blessings is my sweetheart who does not suffer anything near to depression. She is passionate about life and helps me find joy in her enjoyment and fulfillment.

Unfortunately, this characteristic is often passed on to children. Our son suffers from the same difficulty and struggles with unhealthy ways of finding relief. We love him and are patient with him. He works hard to improve his physical health and we see that it helps with his suffering. He keeps busy with his work which also helps but does not remove the suffering. He too feels lonely and seeks in vain for understanding among those who do not have his best interests in mind. We pray for him that he will recognize that such behavior is not helping with his difficulty.

This is way more personal information than I intended to share but I was impressed to let you know that you are not alone in your sufferings. I find great relief in writing. Isn't that just so ironic that some like us who struggle with this difficulty are also blessed with creative talents. I love your quilts. They bring such beauty to the world. I hope for the same results from my essays - to bring some light to at least my life and hopefully to others.

Thank you again for vising my blog. I look forward to reading more posts at your blog and pray the Lord's blessings upon you.
Anonymous said…
Mental illness is a neurological No-Fault Brain Disease. The symptoms usually present themselves between the ages of 16 and 25. When we speak of mental illness we usually refer to schizophrenia, manic depression or bi- polar disorder, severe depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic anxiety attacks. http://www.xanax-effects.com/

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