I soon realized after getting called as a Relief Society President that mental illness was a common issue among the women. My husband and I presented a fifth Sunday lesson on “Mental Health and the Gospel” and learned that the women were not alone in needing help, information, and care regarding mental illness. The men also struggle.
Top Down or Bottom Up?
So what can we do? In the last post, I focused on “the Church” in general and whether or not it could or should provide mental health care or counseling for its members. It is a huge issue and problem, and while the Church could certainly improve and make changes, would it be most effective for a top down or bottom up approach to mental illness among Church members?
Either option might take a long time. Bottom up approaches have the weakness of not being easily replicable or correlated with each other. There is a great potential for things to go rogue and get out of hand. But top down is difficult because, well, it may never happen, and it would need the approval of higher ups who are difficult to contact or who might not fully understand or appreciate the struggles of the mentally ill. Because really, it is hard to understand these issues if you have not personally experienced a mental illness or have professional training and education in mental health care.
Though I’m not old enough to have participated in them, I do know that at one point, the “Enrichment” groups or weekday activities of the Relief Society focused on practical skills and classes—hands on learning experiences to train and teach women homemaking or cultural information.
I wonder if we could do something similar in regards to mental illness and mental health, under the direction of someone who was professional training or at least some expertise and experience with mental health care (and not just herbal remedies, essential oils, or praying away problems).
Maybe we could have mental health courses to help us to recognize and know how to handle emergency situations with friends or family members. Maybe there could be support groups for those with OCD or anxiety or depression or PTSD or whatever mental illness. These kind of groups could decrease stigma, invite access to knowledge and care, and provide those who struggle the ability to know that other people are also dealing with these issues and that they are not alone. Many times, financial issues separate those who need care and those who can provide it. Informal support groups sponsored by the Church might help mitigate this problem and at least provide some level of assistance.
Practically, Bishops, Relief Society Presidents, EQ presidents, and High Priest group leaders should receive some training on how to recognize mental illnesses and what to appropriately do to help individuals rather than enable their illnesses to spiral out of control.
Since so many members turn to Church leaders first, it is imperative that Church leaders know what to do and how to handle these issues or else they will quickly find themselves overwhelmed, out of their league, and maybe even making the problem worse. Mental illnesses affect a person’s brain, actions, feelings, emotions, and relationships. With proper training, stigma will decrease as leaders stop simply saying “That person is crazy!” or “That person has a mental illness of some kind!” as an excuse or rationale. Proper training and increased understanding can help leaders more appropriately handle welfare situations, inactivity, and many other problems that could have a root in mental illness.
This training must take into account medical knowledge in addition to spiritual knowledge. We can’t blindly train our leaders without acknowledging what has been scientifically proven to help and work for mental illnesses. That would defeat the whole purpose.
It’s not a simple problem, and there are surely many options and ways for the Church and congregations to handle mental health care, but these are just a few ideas.
What ideas do you have to add?