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Sunday, October 13, 2013

YEA! - for Elder Holland's Talk on Mental Illness

On Saturday Afternoon Session  of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference Elder Jeffry R. Holland spoke on mental illness and emotional problems.
Wow was I impressed!
As a psychologist, I've been to a lot of workshops, college courses, etc etc about mental illness but I'm not sure I've heard so many wonderful hopeful concepts.
I'm positive Elder Holland's talk will be among a very short list of LDS general authorities who have spoken publicly about mental illness.
The short list of other "Classic" talks on mental illness:

- Elder Boyd K Packer's talk published in the Ensign in 1978 and 2010:  Solving Emotional Problems In the Lord's Own Way;
-Elder M. Russell Ballard's 1987 Ensign article: Suicide: Some Things We Know, and
Some We Do Not;
-Elder Alexander Morrison's 2003 book: Valley of Sorrow: A Layman's Guide to Understanding Mental Illness and the Ensign article: Myths About Mental Illness;
-And Elder Rex D. Pinegar and our Foundation's 2005 book  And I Will Make Thee Whole: Helping Families with Mental Health Concerns.
(Or course now LDS.org has a Mental Illness section on their website: See: Mental Illness.)

Here are my observations on Elder Holland's talk
Like a Broken Vessel:
(I didn't like the title. I would have liked something more positive like "Broken Minds Can Be Healed.")

Elder Holland's "One liners"
It's always refreshing to see the stigma of mental illness reduced for both the surrounding loved ones and the person suffering from the illness. Elder Holland made several statements in his talk comparing mental illness with any other medical disease .... here are two of my favorites:
...there should be no more shame in acknowledging them [mental illness and emotional problems] than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.
And this one....
If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders [and mental illness]. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use ALL of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation..
Elder Holland referencing his OWN mental illness
Of course just having Elder Holland say the words "mental illness" in an official setting like Conference in my opinion is a small miracle. But to "admit" he has suffered from a serious depression condition is a much larger miracle. Elder Holland said:
I once terrifyingly saw it [depression] in myself. At one point in our married life when financial fears collided with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real. With the grace of God and the love of my family, I kept functioning and kept working,...
Elder Holland referencing President Smith's mental illness
Plus Elder Holland went one step further identifying numerous world leaders and other popular figures who have also suffered from depression/mental illness including:
Elder George Albert Smith, the latter being one of the most gentle and Christ like men of our dispensation, who battled recurring depression for some years before later becoming the universally beloved eighth prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Remember, in an earlier blog we told the story of President Harold B. Lee's battle with depression. See: Depression: A Dark Angel.

Believe it or not at times the "self-stigmatisation" (the stigma and shame the individual with mental illness has about themselves) is more devastating than even the mental illness symptoms! Read this last sentence again--- Believe it or not at times the "self-stigmatisation" (the stigma and shame the individual with mental illness has about themselves) is more devastating than even the mental illness symptoms! :( Reducing stigma helps healing! :)

Elder Holland used words like: "neuroses and psychoses, ... bipolarity, paranoia, and schizophrenia" and of course "MDD, Major Depressive Disorder."  He carefully discussed characteristics of Major Depressive Disorder identifying the difference between the mental illness and normal depression/discouragement we all experience.
When I speak of this, [Major Depressive Disorder] I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. ... But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully...
In an earlier blog Depression: A Dark Angel we talked about the confusion associated with the misuse of the word "Depression."

Clearly, Elder Holland has had a personal experience with the mental illness referred to as Major Depressive Disorder. You might ask how could I tell? Look at how he described depression:

-"a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively"
 "this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement"
-“searched … and contemplated the darkest abyss
and of course his several references to suicide.
Only a person who has experienced the mental illness of "depression" would understand the associated darkness and despair.

And most helpful was Elder Holland's TO DO LIST for those suffering from the mental illness of Depression - here are a few:

1. Above all never lose faith in your Father in Heaven who
loves you more than you can comprehend.
2. Seek the counsel from those who hold keys for your spiritual well being.
3. Ask for cherish priesthood blessings.
4. Take the Sacrament every week.
5. Hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ
6. Believe in miracles.
7. Trusting in happier days ahead. Hope is never lost.
8. If the bitter cup does not pass drink it. And be strong.
9. Get the best medical care available.
For more suggestions check out the blog: Got depression? Do this.

Elder Holland goes on to give advice to caregivers, to talk about how to prevent "depletion depression",  and to share the story about Stephanie Clark Nielsen. (A few years ago Mormon Messages did a video on Sister Nielsen's story- My New Life. )
The fact that Elder Holland talked so openly and frankly about mental illness brings HOPE into the healing process for thousands of those who hear it.

A couple of other great quotes from his talk were:
"If we do not take time to be well, we most assuredly
will take time later on, to be ill."

"We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions!" 
"Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed."

Watch Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's - Conference Talk on Mental Illness-Like a Broken Vessel.

Read the written text- Like a Broken Vessel of Elder Holland's talk.
(Make sure to pay attention to his last paragraph, it's the best!)

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  1. With family members all around me that suffer from this sort of "Blue", and some with full blown mental issues I wish I could understand it better. I do support them the best I can. It is difficult to be the care giver in these situations. It is also difficult for me to be up-beat when these feelings come to be overwhelming. I'm not perfect by any means, and do I get blue, yes.. but do I feel the kind of pain others feel? I don't think so. I have always been resilient. I maybe have a good expectation that I understand the big picture. To me, when others feel no value, or that they are worthless, I say to them. Don't devalue the love around you and in heaven. You are worthy, just listening to the wrong voice. Of course I probably have no idea of what I'm speaking.

    1. I do know a couple of things...

      Feed your FAITH and your doubts will starve to death

  2. Question: With President Holland's statement about depression, "that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!"... How does this fit into the context of Cognitive Therapy and repairing ANT or Automated Negative Thoughts?

    Understanding that some people might have to take depression medications simply to get to a place where they are able to do this, isn't one of the most lasting forms of overcoming depression learning to recognize and combat these ANT patterns?... and some might argue (at least they seam to in "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David Burns) that learning to make improvements in our thought patterns is one of the most lasting and effective ways of treating depression- even more lasting with less negative effects than depression medications.

    1. So, I guess the main point is if he isn't an advocate for squaring shoulders and positive thinking, what is he an advocate for? Was this statement anti Cognitive Therapy and pro depression medication, or is there some type of middle ground that is being missed in his statement?

      While I think there are people who wrongfully assume that depression can simply be treated with positive thoughts, cognitive therapy is something I see as more than just positive thinking. It provides people with a framework to categorize their negative thoughts and proactively combat them. However, I'm afraid people advocating for cognitive therapy will be lumped into those who "simply" promote positive thinking instead of seeing it as a legitimate source of healing (a way which seems to have done more good than many drugs being sold to people in need), and has been proven to be a legitimate source of healing, with long lasting results, for many who suffer from depression.

      I'm afraid of President Holland's remarks discounting the advice of some to others to seek cognitive therapy or even suggest it as a viable way of healing- as it appears "no one can responsibly suggest" that depression can be overcome with positive thinking.

    2. I learned cognitive therapy years ago, and it helped a great deal, but it wasn't enough. Eventually I needed medication. Thankfully there are newer DBT techniques (I have severe PTSD) that my newest therapist has been trained in that have been helpful. I think that most of us who have been through cognitive therapy will continue to be huge advocates. Elder Holland did say that he is still a huge advocate of squaring shoulders. I do believe, however, (as you) that too many people are being offered medication when other things may be able to help them first. Unfortunately, I've had way more experiences with the opposite problem.

  3. I am a registered social worker who specializes in helping women experiencing debilitating anxiety (and often depression) find peace and independence. I KNOW anxiety as I experienced panic attack disorder for 35+years and then the depression came!

    Local priesthood leaders, in most cases, have been less than helpful. I have offered my LDS books to them...little interest.

    I am single, and I have had to use the Church's financial resources. On one occasion I had to eat food from the Bishop's Storehouse...I became ill, and it took me a year to regain my health.

    I have been "pushed" to involve two siblings, both of whom have made it clear they do not want to help.

    Even so, I continue to strive to do better. I wish we could do a better job of educating people. I wish that Bishop's Storehouses could provide fresh/frozen food and veggies and not so much canned food that contains preservatives and sugar. I hope for the day when we can speak openly about depression.

    I have not been hospitalized...what would help is a church job and some encouragement. Will it ever come?

  4. The idea of getting therapy is drastically different than just saying positive things as a way of overcoming depression. Therapy is a tool in combating mental illness by recognizing behavior and its triggers and how to deal with them, not simply chanting mantras or being told to think positive.

  5. It is near impossible for a person to truly understand mental illness if they have not suffered from it.

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  8. I have a Christian mental health blog that is based on the Book of Mormon and the Bible. It is called Bipolar and OCD Blues. Yes, I have both of these mental illnesses and this recent week, I have had more good days than off days. I do not use the term, bad day because I even have shining moments in what I just referred as off days. That is how well I am becoming. I welcome you to visit my blog at: http://bipolarocdblues.blogspot.com