I was asked to give a talk in our Stake General Priesthood meeting last night about how we can support those who suffer from depression. For those of you who know me, it is a topic close to my heart. Depression is something that I am unfortunately far too familiar with, but I have recently been discussing it much more in the hopes to provide both some degree of comfort for others who suffer, as well as a greater understanding for those who don’t.
Anyway, here is my talk, below. Because it is a talk to men who hold the Priesthood, there are references to Priesthood Quorums, and to Home Teachers (in the LDS church, Home Teachers are men who are asked visit individuals and families in the church to watch over and care for them), but the principles apply more broadly.
Whatever your own circumstance, I hope you find it helpful.
As the book of Job begins in the Old Testament, the writer tells us that Job was a, “perfect and upright [man], and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” (Job 1:1) In addition to his righteousness, Job had also been blessed with great material possessions, making him “the greatest of all the men in the east.” (Job 1:3)
Within a short period of time, however, Job had lost everything. His herds had been stolen, his servants slain. His children had all died in tragic accidents and his property had been destroyed. And after all of this, his body then became covered, “with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” (Job 2:7)
When we speak of Job, we often refer to his continued faith despite his trials – certainly a lesson worth studying – but I would like to focus on a different aspect of Job’s experience.
Through the following chapters, we learn what these unquestionably severe challenges – indeed traumas – did to Job’s mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Although never wavering from his belief, and indeed trust, in God, this faithful man wonders what great sin he must have committed to be worthy of such punishment. He becomes filled with guilt for sins he can’t remember and indeed didn’t commit. Yet for Job, the heavens are now closed. If God is listening, then Job certainly doesn’t believe the Lord is answering his pleas.
He is unable to sleep and is full of confusion. Job repeatedly speaks of his loss of all hope. He wishes he hadn’t been born, ultimately crying, “Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off.” (Job 6:8-9)
It is a tragedy that those desperately sad words from the righteous Job are repeated so frequently in the hearts of so many people in our day – including in the hearts of many faithful members of the Church. Indeed, it is likely that amongst us this evening are those who have felt, or currently feel, this way. And that number rises when we go back to our Wards and Branches, amongst both the active and the less active members of our congregations.
The causes of such severe depression are varied. In Job, we see a man who experienced many great trials – all of which were visible to others. But we know invisible factors also play a part. Childhood traumas, personality types, genetic predispositions, the unrelenting pressures of an unforgiving society; these, amongst other things, can all play a part to greater or lesser degrees.
In the October 2013 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R Holland spoke of depression as, “an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, 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.”
As if to make the point that it is something that can affect anyone, Elder Holland references the recurrent depression of Elder George Albert Smith, who became Prophet and President of the Church, and goes on to say, “I once terrifyingly saw it in myself.” (Like a Broken Vessel, Oct 2013 General Conference)
I, too, have teetered on that terrifying precipice more than once, this black dog – as Winston Churchill called it – walking as a constant unpleasant and unwelcome companion through my life.
How can we help others?
Because the horrors of depression can’t be properly understood by one who hasn’t experienced them, it can be difficult for many to know how to help someone in need. Surely there is no greater example of the need to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, than with those suffering from such pains of the mind. But how can we do so?
In the example of Job, we read of Job’s three friends who, “come to mourn with him and to comfort him.” (Job 2:11) But when he hasn’t cheered up after a week of mourning they take a different approach, twisting righteous principles into accusations against him. We feel with Job when he eventually calls them, “Miserable comforters are ye all.” (Job 16:2)
Indeed, their dangerous self-righteousness – that in fact increases Job’s pain – causes the Lord to later chastise them, “My wrath is kindled against thee…” He said, “…for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right.” (Job 42:7)
Instead, as Elder Holland said, we should be, “merciful, non-judgmental, and kind” towards those who are suffering.
But in addition to these foundational principles from Elder Holland, I would like to suggest three things that we can do as bearers of the Lord’s Holy Priesthood.
First, as Home-Teachers, we can strive to be close to the families under our care. Depression is invisible and will be missed with superficial contact, even if that contact is regular. Trust must run deep between a home-teacher and an individual for such painful things of the soul to be shared, and even then it is unlikely to be spoken of in a routine visit where children may be present, or where the member doesn’t feel he or she can share such feelings with both home-teachers.
This may be challenging for many reasons. You may have a long list of individuals and families to watch over. Inevitably you will have needs in your own life and in that of your own family that rightly should take priority. You may have been asked by Priesthood leaders to visit some of your families only quarterly, making it more difficult to establish or maintain the necessary relationship.
If that is the case, then counsel with your Priesthood leaders, counsel with the Lord. Then, along with all of the other things you feel you need to do but don’t think you can, just do your best. Or, as I prefer to say, just try. Mortality has as a constant theme that of trying, falling short, and trying again. If we do so with an eye single to the Lord, then our efforts will be sanctified for ourselves and for those whose lives we seek to bless.
Second, be mindful of those who you already know are suffering from depression or other mental health difficulties, and be aware that their needs may change over time. Where brethren are affected, Quorums are ideally suited for Quorum members to support each other in brotherhood. Don’t let a brother – or indeed anyone – be forgotten because they are unable to attend church meetings.
At times, this might mean no more than sending an occasional email. At other times, perhaps visiting with a member who has sought refuge in the church carpark might be of far greater value than attending a Sunday School or Priesthood lesson about charity. Simple things like these can make a big difference, and serve as examples of how it doesn’t need to take more of your time to tell someone that they are loved and missed.
Third and finally, please don’t forget the rest of the family. When one member of a family suffers with a serious mental health issue, the entire family is impacted: often severely.
Consider when a husband or wife has severe depression. The other will not only suddenly have all of the responsibilities of caring for the rest of the family, they will also have the deep worry about their spouse. He or she may feel guilt, wondering whether they were the cause of the depression. And in very serious cases, salaries may be lost adding financial worries.
Children, too, will notice changes in the routines or feelings in their home and their family dynamic. This can be stressful and distressing for them, depending on their age and other stresses they may be experiencing from school or friends.
It is right that effort is spent on supporting the person who is ill: with Priesthood blessings, with professional counselling and other forms of support. But please don’t forget the rest of the family.
Healing will come
When the Saviour visited the Nephites, He called for the multitude to bring forth all those who were “afflicted in any manner… and I will heal them.” (3 Nephi 17:7)
When we remember the many wars the people had known – wars in which fathers, sons, and brothers were killed and maimed; when we recall the vast societal upheavals wrought across the Nephite civilisation that tore communities apart; when we remember the violent storms and three days of darkness the people had so recently experienced, in which entire cities were destroyed; surely there were a great many people with psychological illnesses requiring the Saviour’s loving touch. “… and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him.” (3 Nephi 17:9)
The people had already knelt at the Saviour’s feet, felt the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. They already knew of His divinity. But now they felt and witnessed the power of His mercy and grace.
“And they did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him; and as many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.” (3 Nephi 17:10)
Christ’s call then, remains today: for us to bring those who are afflicted in any manner unto Him. As both prevalence and awareness of mental health issues continue to increase, surely this is an area where each of us can learn more about how to do so.
For those suffering, I pray that we may cry with Job in the midst of his afflictions, “… when [God] hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
For the rest of us, I pray that we may learn better to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. That we may be strengthened and magnified in our ability to bring those who are afflicted in any manner to the Great Healer of our Souls, Jesus Christ.
Healing may not come soon, or even at all in this life for some. But I testify that the day will come when all tears are wiped away by His loving hands. Then, we too may say with Job, though this time reverently, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5)
In the name of Him who descended below all things that He might rise above all things, even Jesus Christ, Amen.
© copyright 2017, Jeffrey Collyer