I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t have very much in depth experience with other religions or churches, not having been a part of any. Having studied world religions a little bit at BYU and gone on a mission, though, I’ve learned that there are some religions that aren’t just “Sabbath Day churches.” By this I mean that, in addition to going a church once a week, they require certain lifestyles of their members and have their own unique culture and traditions.
Mormonism is definitely one of these. We are instructed on media choices, dating age, morality, chastity, diet, etc. We pay tithing on our earnings and are asked to pay other offerings to help the poor or those more in need than ourselves. We have lessons and hear talks on worthiness for temple attendance, how and why to be grateful, family relationships, scripture stories, and marriage. There are two “General Conferences” each year where we hear church leaders instruct us on these and other matters of the gospel and daily living. You can meet with your Bishop or local leader for advice or physical or spiritual needs. We perform marriages in our temples, conduct funerals in our meeting houses, and most other things in between (maybe comprehensive health care and services are one thing we are missing). I mean, we even have Boy Scout troops. Basically, in addition to being a church, we also function as a microcosm of society.
This is all amazing, but I think the leaders of the church are starting to realize that while we talk about and do so many things to help people, we are lacking in transparency, assistance, and knowledge about mental health. It’s hard to “blame” the church as an institution for this, though. We can’t expect all Bishops to be well versed psychologists or psychiatrists after all. But there is a definite feeling embedded in the much of the culture of Mormonism and our wards and branches relating to the need to look and act like you have everything together.
A place to be perfect or to improve?
Church leaders have addressed this before; for instance, President Uchtdorf has talked about the Church being a place for imperfect people to learn and work on becoming better. But the thing is, I think a lot of us don’t want to seem needy. We want to look and act put together. It’s embarrassing to give off the impression that we are a mess or can’t handle life. And so we pretend. We go to church and smile, do our callings the best we can, say the right things, and then go home. When home or visiting teachers come over, we act the part again. But maybe we aren’t really doing as fine as we tell everyone. Maybe we have emotional or mental issues. Maybe sometimes we talk to the Bishop about them and he says, “Oh, but you are great! I see you at church and you are handling it all so well! Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
And we can’t blame him, because, well, we did try to look like we were handling it so well. Maybe no one wants to take responsibility for our mental illness: maybe we don’t, maybe the Church doesn’t, maybe doctors don’t, and maybe our parents or families don’t. And that’s okay. But I don’t think we should feel like we have to hide it.
But what can we do?
I get it, though. Mental illness is like the leprosy of our modern age. It’s the pariah that nobody really wants to talk about or touch (except Elder Holland!). If we find out someone has depression or is suicidal (or even OCD), tones become hushed, and it feels like we are talking about something taboo. Or we feel like we are prying into people’s business—because we are, really. But maybe that’s what Church relationships should also be about: not just what dresses or ties we are wearing on Sunday and how well we taught the Sunday School lesson but really supporting each other with what is going on in our minds and lives.
So, if there is anything you would like to see addressed in a blog post here relating to church and OCD (or other mental illness), let me know by commenting or sending me a message via the “Contact” page. I have ideas, of course, but I’d love to use this as a forum for you to get the specific help you are looking for as well. Don’t be shy! You can also find me on Instagram and Twitter and ask there.
Also, for an interesting read, check out the article about George Albert Smith linked to on the “Gospel Resources” page. Remember that people aren’t “perfect,” even apostles and prophets. We all have our struggles, and maybe yours isn’t as unique or solitary as you imagine!