Depression affects over 16 million Americas every year and has become a leading health issue. Members of the LDS faith are not immune from this illness and have to deal not only with the physical and mental issues, but spiritual ones as well.
“Those who don’t have depression don’t know what it’s like,” said Kayla Stonely, a junior studying human development. “I’ve often described it like being in this deep, dark pit and as much as you want to claw your way out of it, you’re just stuck. So you can’t do anything.”
“The gospel is supposed to be joy and happiness, then why do I feel so stuck?” said Jessica Hoopes, a stay-at-home mom.
Learning how to balance depression with faith can be a challenge. But members of the Church who struggle with depression can learn how to live a hopeful life through their beliefs with the crushing despair they have to face.
“There are the times where I’ve been praying and it seems like I’m not getting answers, that I’m not being heard,” Stonely said. “There have been times where I’ve been sobbing in prayer or I’m literally yelling to God, ‘Why do I have to go through this again?'”
Knowing the trials some of its members face, the LDS Church has reached out to help those dealing with depression and other mental illnesses. The Church has released videos about people dealing with depression and their experiences learning to live with their weaknesses. The church also created a website devoted solely to helping people with mental illnesses.
Even some of the leaders of the LDS Church have begun to open up about their struggles with mental illnesses. In a recent general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talked about his dealings with depression and how he had felt its influence in his life. Elder Holland also offered hope to people dealing with depression.
“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed,” Elder Holland said.
Many church members have found hope through Elder Holland’s talk and in other examples of trials in the scriptures. Experiencing depression doesn’t mean people are lacking in faith or are unworthy.
“It seems to me that Paul the apostle struggled time to time with depression,” said Steve Smith, the director of BYU’s Counseling and Career Center. “One would not consider him as lacking in faith, you wouldn’t think of Jacob, a prophet, as having lacked faith. That’s not the issue — the issue is that every individual goes through it.”
“Like a Broken Vessel” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (Mormon Channel)
Others find strength through their faith in God and his care for each individual.
“I can’t say my depression has gone away, that would be a lie,” wrote Shaina Colby, a recent convert, in an email. “But knowing that someone else, even for the moment I can’t see him, is thinking of me, being loving and supportive — it means so much more than words can say.”
Despite the recent attention and growing awareness of depression and mental illness, there are still misconceptions about people with these ailments.
“There’s still a shame aspect of it, even now,” Hoopes said. “People don’t see mental health for what it is, there’s still a stigma.”
A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine showed over 70 percent of individuals suffering from mental illness don’t receive treatment. Some people don’t seek out help because of low income or lack of health insurance. Others don’t reach out simply because the subject is difficult to talk about.
Part of the difficulty in talking about depression is that those who don’t have it often have a difficult time knowing how to help people in need. People with depression said listening and being patient are some of the best ways to help.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s going on with ourselves,” Hoopes said. “To open up and be vulnerable to people, that’s hard.”
While most help is welcome, there are a few guidelines on what not to do.
“Telling them it’s all in their head, that it will pass or go away is not something that is very comforting to hear. Because someone with depression knows that it will go away, but it doesn’t feel like that in the moment,” Stonely said. “They hope it will go away, they know it will. But in that moment you’re just being sucked into the darkness and that seems impossible.”
Even in the midst of depression and anxiety, members of the LDS Church use their faith to see the good side and benefits of having their mental illness. In the end, faith overcomes depression.
“If I had the option, I don’t think I would choose to not have depression and anxiety, as silly as that seems,” Stonely said. “I’ve learned we are each given unique gifts and challenges and God made us the way that we are for a reason.”
Depression and anxiety are serious illnesses, but they are treatable. If you or someone you know may have these illnesses or would like more information please visit https://caps.byu.edu.