This last Sunday, I gave a lesson to the adults in our ward/congregation about “Mental Health and the Gospel.”
As a relatively new Relief Society President, I have seen the prevalence of mental health issues in our congregation and also the hesitance with which they are discussed. I recommended to the Bishopric that we have a fifth Sunday lesson on mental health and received the go ahead to make a presentation.
For those who are interested or were not able to attend, here is the general lesson plan with some notes/commentary:
“Mental Health and the Gospel” 5th Sunday Lesson Plan
(1) HOPE: for the individual and the affected family members
We did not want the lesson to be used for diagnostic purposes or as a forum to share personal stories.
We began by inviting everyone to write down their relationship(s) with mental illness on an index card. As people did this, I shared my history and background with having OCD, from the early instances wherein I didn’t understand what was “wrong” with me, all the way up to my contamination fears.
I really wanted to be honest with the extent my mental illness controlled and still does influence my life. I wanted people to understand that I don’t flippantly say that I have a mental illness. It is very real and very terrifying, and I strongly feel that as those of us who have mental illness accept our reality and are open about, it will lead the way for others to be honest and open with themselves and others as well.
I also felt strongly to let people know that a mental illness is not a result of unworthiness. It cannot be prayed or fasted away. Often times, the mental illness can crowd out feelings of the Spirit, making it hard to pray, read scriptures, etc. I wanted to give hope to people who feel these damaging affects that it is not their fault that they feel this way. Mental illness is a liar and a bully.
I received a comment the next day about “how brave” I was to tell the whole ward about my problems. Yes, this was the first time I had described in detail my mental illness to a large group of people in person. But I don’t feel that it is brave to talk about mental illness, or at least I don’t want it to be brave. I want it to be normal. I wouldn’t be ashamed or consider it brave to talk about my endometriosis or another physical chronic illness. I don’t want people to think it requires a specific strain of courage or bravery to be open about mental illness.
From there, we talked about hope, reading the following quotation from Elder Gerrit W. Gong,
“Black-and-white thinking says everything is either absolutely perfect or hopelessly flawed. But we can gratefully accept, as God’s sons and daughters, that we are His greatest handiwork (see Psalm 8:3-6; Hebrews 2:7), even though we are still a work in progress.”
I discussed a little bit about George Albert Smith and the fact that the Lord loves and needs all of us, not in spite of but because of the things we go through. We then went on to talk about practical tips for those dealing with mental illness:
TIPS FOR INDIVIDUALS
(1) Overcome pride: You are NOT a failure. You may need help but that is okay.
(2) Ignore stigmas: Don’t feel unworthy because you have a mental illness.
(3) MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT A SIN!
A quotation from Ministering Resources for Leaders states,
“Mental illness is not a punishment from God. […] [It] cannot be overcome by willpower alone. Mental illness does not indicate that a person lacks faith, character, or worthiness.”
WORK WE HAVE TO DO
(4) Research help.
I provided a pamphlet that listed local resources as well as useful websites for diagnostic purposes.
(5) Do something with that research.
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated in his talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,”
“If things continue to be debilitating, seek 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.”
ACTION. AGENCY. God gives us tools but we need to use them.
HONESTY. Without acknowledging and accepting reality, how can we move forward?
WORK. You might not always be actively getting better. There are hard days but keep trying.
TOOLS FOR LOVED ONES
After I shared some more personal examples, I gave my husband some time to discuss how to help loved ones who have mental health issues. He shared his experience growing up with a mother who suffered with bipolar disorder and shared stories about how dealing with me and my OCD have affected him and our life together.
He also focused on a few points:
- God loves you. He will help you. He loves the person you love (who has a mental illness) too! Don’t forget to turn to God.
- Never stop loving the person. Be patient. Be compassionate. We did some “role play” on how to show compassion to a spouse who is going through a difficult mental health struggle, showing both bad and good ways to handle the situation and show love and support.
- Encourage your loved one to get professional help, and support them as they do so. Offer to go to therapy sessions with them. Understand what the doctor has asked them to do or not do and help them succeed. Do not enable or support the mental illness.
- Do your own research. Understand what is happening with your loved one. Read books, study, and strive to understand what they are experiencing. Your relationship with your loved one is important. If it’s a spouse or child, it’s an eternal relationship. It is worth fighting for.
After his presentation, we moved into talking about:
(1) Ask about it… Don’t be afraid to bring it up. Don’t let it fester in the dark. We referenced the Church’s website, preventingsuicide.lds.org.
(2) Know the warning signs: what are they? (see website)
(3) Encourage professional help
(4) Don’t gloss over it or ignore it. Offer your assistance as they make a “safety plan” (see below)
(1) Talk to someone about it.
(2) Create a “safety plan.” We discussed an article from the Ensign by Doug Thomas about how to make one.
After this discussion, I bore testimony that having a mental illness is not easy. It is not something that you can pray away. It’s extremely difficult to live with a mental illness, but God knows you. He allows us to go through these experiences so that we can learn empathy and have compassion on each other. A mental illness is “no respecter of persons” but we must remember that God loves us and will use our experiences for our good and the good of others.