The Church recently spent tithing money producing a slick,new Mormon Message, titled “Like a Broken Vessel,” based on Jeffrey Holland’s conference talk about mental illness.Watching this video, I began to ask a few questions that I would like to explore in this post.
Is the message powerful enough and provides specific support to people suffering from depression or some other form of mental illness,to spend the widow’s mite to produce a church video? Let us review the contents together to find out.
The first part of the video introduces the viewer to members who have experienced mental illness. The only mild criticism I have on this part is it feels slightly manipulative with the background music and the crying. This is a serious issue that affects millions every year so I hope the rest of the video treats it as such.
Apostle Jeffrey Holland then puts depression in a religious context by discussing the perils and adversity all pass through during their mortal experience.He points out people have to experience thorns and thistles and noxious weeds in mortality. He then seems to equate depression with happiness by saying “We have all had some experience where we said I am never going to be happy again. But we are going to be happy again.” I am not sure if he is just referring to a mild case of unhappiness that many people go through or something more serious such as clinical depression. If it is clinical depression that is very different than just being “unhappy”. I have family members who suffer from it and they describe it as an emptiness, as a black hole, a lack of energy and desire. In many cases it is not really the opposite of happiness that Holland is referring to.
When the other people come back, they actually describe it with accurate details such as one young lady who talks about how it feels like being on a roof and terrified she can’t do anything. That was a poignant description.
After more than five minutes of descriptions, the video finally moves to solutions.Elder Holland says God would expect “you to get a priesthood blessing and the best medical care.” A seemingly rank and file member tells us to get a combination of both but puts the emphasis on priesthood blessing by saying it is powerful. Words even appear on the screen saying “Priesthood blessings are powerful.” NO words appear saying “Get the best medical help available.”For non members, a priesthood blessing is where two men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood anoint your head with oil, put hands on your head and say a blessing over you. There is no research that I am aware of where that says this has beneficial effects for someone with mental illness. It may be harmless or possibly have some small placebo effect for some, but please don’t emphasis that over seeking the best medical help available.
Jesslyn was the highlight of this section. She talks about how a combination of medication, counseling, and exercise helped her. Out of the almost 12 minute video, this part was about 10 seconds long. Here was someone giving real advice and it was seemingly glossed over so we could move to people testifying how the gospel helped heal them. The viewer is next inundated with this message as we are told the miracle of the gospel is, it can heal the broken vessel.The testimonies come one after the other with gospel messages of light being available through the Mormon Church.It seemed the implied message was to pay, pray, and obey.
As it closed, words appeared saying we could learn more about these individuals and other stories regarding mental illness at mentalhealth.lds.org. I went there in search of information. I found slickly produced videos featuring the people from the Mormon message. I found the suicide hotline number. That was about it. If I were struggling with depression or some other form of mental illness, I would not find any real help in the 12 minute video or on the website!
Is this because mental illness is not an issue in the lives of members? Clearly, no! A recent study looked at 13 measures to get an overall ranking per state regarding this issue. Only five states scored lower than Utah in the overall ranking in mental illness and access to care. The adult ranking put the state of Utah at the bottom of the list. There is certainly a need. Read the information for yourself if you doubt what I am saying is true. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states
The video was short on specifics. About 30 seconds was devoted to actual science and how to get research supported help. It appears the video was more for appearances than anything else. Poor use of the widow’s mite.
The church sends out missionaries to the world informing them of the blessing of having a living prophet on the Earth today. The idea being, he receives revelation from God and if people join the Church, their lives will improve in countless ways. My next question- Is there some special insight the Church has regarding this topic based on revelation from a prophet?
I did a survey of conference talks and articles in Church magazines to find out. Here are the results: There were very few mentions of this topic throughout the history of the Church. In conference, it was usually in passing and almost always in reference to depression.
Boyd Packer in October 1978 went on a vitriolic rant about the evils of counseling. Surely, this man gets the nod for the sheer number of misinformed and ignorant statements by a Church leader.
Robert Hales in October 2000 said, “Dark moments of depression were quickly dispelled by the light of the gospel.” The message was the gospel cures depression with no mention of seeking professional assistance.
Richard G Scott in October 200 said, “You can cast out guilt, overcome depression, receive the blessing of peace of mind, and find enduring joy.” He had the same message as Hales. No mention of seeking competent help or that it was even necessary. The subject of the talk in which depression is mentioned was “repentance.” This comes up again and again where depression is linked to sin. This idea of course is not unique to Mormonism and has origins to other Christian Churches. The problem, is that the church CLAIMS to have a living prophet who is inspired and we get this same old teaching and mindset from the protestant community. Where is the inspired teachings and counsel from the Prophet on this?
Boyd Packer in April 2001 said, “We know that some anxiety and depression is caused by physical disorders, but much (perhaps most) of it is not pain of the body but of the spirit. Spiritual pain resulting from guilt can be replaced with peace of mind.
In contrast to the hard words condemning sin, listen to the calming, healing words of mercy, which balance the harsher words of justice.
Alma said: “My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but … my soul is pained no more.”16
“I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell. …”
In very strong words, he associates depression with sin. It may be understandable putting it in a religious context, but associating depression and mental illness with SIN is not. Go to any respected health organization’s website such as the Mayo Clinic, and you will find no association with sin. Packer’s message is repentance cures mental illness.
Kathleen Hughes in April 2003 said, “I have dealt myself with the debilitating effects of depression. But I have learned from my own experience, and I learn from those I meet, that we are never left to our own resources. We are never abandoned. A wellspring of goodness, of strength and confidence is within us, and when we listen with a feeling of trust, we are raised up. We are healed. We not only survive, but we love life. We laugh; we enjoy; we go forward with faith.” Certainly, this is a more positive message than the previous two. She does not associate depression with sin but the basis of the talk is the gospel heals. Nothing mentioned that in many cases the gospel is not enough so medical treatment may be necessary. George Albert Smith suffered with depression throughout his life without that spring of healing she talks about. If it did not come to a living prophet, them maybe there is more to the story about being healed.
Jeffrey Holland in April 2006 said, “Do you—or someone you love—face disease or depression or death? Whatever other steps you may need to take to resolve these concerns, come first to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He never says what the other steps are thus relegates them to secondary importance.
Wilford Andersen in April 2010 said, “I do not wish to minimize the reality of clinical depression. For some, solutions to depression and anxieties will be found through consultation with competent professionals. But for most of us, sadness and fear begin to melt away and are replaced by happiness and peace when we put our trust in the Author of the plan of happiness and when we develop faith in the Prince of Peace.”
Russel Ballard in October 2010 said, “Recently I talked to a sister who was in the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. She shared with me her sorrowful journey from complete mental and physical health, a wonderful marriage and family, into mental illness, debilitating health, and the breakup of her family—all of which started with the abuse of prescription painkillers.” Warns against misuse of prescription drugs which is a problem in the Mormon community. My issue, is members take these snippets of thought and equate proper use of medicine as evil.
Jeffrey Holland in October 2013. This is the talk the Mormon message we discussed earlier is based on. He talks about depression.He said, “So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven….Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles.” Really, that is your advice for someone suffering from major depression? Seek time tested devotional practices? He finally says you can also seek competent medical help almost as an afterthought if nothing else works.
That is it. In all the years of conference, these are the only real comments on the subject I could find. I see nothing in this statements that shows any special insight or revelation from a Prophet to assist people in dealing with mental illness.Where are the fruits of a living Prophet in this area? These Conference statements are harmless at best and damaging in some instances. They are retread thoughts from protestant ideas. This does not mean the Church thinks the gospel is to be found in any other Church, quite the contrary.
In summary, the Church produced a video that was long on fluff but has little to offer in terms of substance. Conference talks addressing the subject of mental illness are few and far between. When they do discuss the topic, it is usually in passing and no real encouragement to seek qualified professional help. The ‘gospel cures all’ seems to be the constant theme. This is a serious subject that deserves to be treated as such by the Church. I am waiting for that day.