The Healing Power of Faith
By Kathleen Vogtle, NAMI Communications Coordinator
Founded in 1830 during the “Second Great Awakening” by Joseph Smith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, commonly called the Mormon Church), is the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States. The church greatly emphasizes the values of a strong family, lifelong learning and helping others, including through community service, providing humanitarian aid and an extensive missionary network.
These values were especially pronounced in Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s poignant and compelling talk on mental illness at the church’s recent semi-annual worldwide conference. He specifically focused on his own past struggle with depression and how mental illness must be treated like other chronic conditions. It is the first time that such high level public attention has been given to mental illness in an LDS setting and has raised enormous attention in the LDS community.
Mental illness, Holland said, is just another “…reality of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging it than acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.”
Having lived with depression, Holland has intimate knowledge of how mental illness can affect a person and their loved ones. As an Elder, he has witnessed how others in the community have been affected. For example, he recalls a young mother who experienced severe depression after she survived a horrific plane crash.
“Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend...” Holland said. “‘That love never changes.’ It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful…. It is simply always there.”
Time and again throughout his talk, Holland urges those affected by mental illness to push back against stigma and fear, to seek help and support both spiritually and medically. “Watch for stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help,” he said. “Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being, and the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give and the solutions they prescribe.”
He also acknowledged and advised those caring for someone who lives with a mental illness. “In your devoted effort to assist with another's health,” Holland said, “do not destroy your own. Try not to be overwhelmed with the size of your task. Don't assume you can fix everything, but fix what you can. If those are only small victories, be grateful for them. And be patient. Dozens of times in the scriptures, the Lord commands someone to ‘stand still’ or ‘be still’—and wait.”
Ultimately, though, Holland urges to never give up hope or faith. “Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the psalmist says, we must remember that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. Through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still much in life to be hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions.”
Mental illness does not discriminate by religion, creed or custom. It is of universal concern, and therefore requires a universally affirmative response to the call for advocacy and parity.
“People living with or who are affected by mental illness are trying to heal,” Holland concluded, recalling once more the words of the psalmist. “The rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”