It's the first weekend in October which means it's time for the semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (You Know, The Mormons). In three 2-hour sessions on Saturday and two 2-hour sessions on Sunday, we hear from leaders of our church regarding a variety of topics. The sessions are available to view online, or you can listen on the radio, or (what I've been doing) watch it on television.
This afternoon Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle (in the quorum of the twelve apostles) gave a talk which will be referenced for years to come. Now, I should tell you that Elder Holland is known for being a dynamic and captivating speaker. His energy brings to mind images of a vigorous preacher, which he is. He's also known for showing his sensitivity and love in a sincere way, making his words beloved by most who hear (or read) them.
His topic today?
Mental illness. Specifically, depression.
All over social media outlets people are praising this talk (most are using #ldsconf), but there are still some who seem to not understand why, or why this is any better than any of his other talks, so I'm going to share my perspective.
So many around us suffer from depression. Also, so many of us suffer from depression. Is there anyone in your life who is affected by depression? If you answered, 'No,' then I'm pretty confident that you're wrong; you just don't know that someone is affected by it because they don't talk about it.
Why don't they talk about it? Because there's shame involved. Why is there shame involved? Well, let's look at it.
Imagine you wake up tomorrow and you can't get out of bed. As in, you don't have the energy to get out of bed. Nothing else in your life has changed as far as what's on your schedule or the responsibilities which are yours or your to-do list, you just can't get out of bed. Why can't you get out of bed? You don't know. You can't explain it. 'Sad' doesn't even begin to describe how you feel. You just feel...empty. Empty to the point that it hurts your body. You know enough to know that you're not right. You feel worse that you can't pinpoint what's wrong. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with you physically so there's no way that people around you would understand what's wrong. When others ask, "Are you sick?" what they mean is, "Do you have a cold?" and that's not it, so no, you're not sick, right? But you don't FEEL right. You feel like sleeping and maybe you could sleep for days on end or not sleep for days. Maybe you don't eat or maybe you can't stop eating. Sometimes you are able to get up and get dressed and do the bare minimum for appearance's sake for the outside world, and other times you have been in the same clothes for four days because you just can't bear to move. Maybe you feel nothing, which isn't an easy thing to think about.
And the confusion of all of this is not lost on you. And it's embarrassing and impossible to put into words and you feel like a failure and you feel utterly alone.
Maybe this was brought on by a major and/or tragic event in your life. But you know what? MAYBE IT WASN'T. Maybe it's just how things have been, and you have no answer for how you got to this point, and you certainly don't have an answer for how to get out of it.
And who could you possibly tell? It's painful - near impossible - to leave your house, but when you do, you somehow manage to make it look like Everything's Fine. But that? That episode of showering, getting dressed and running three errands? It sucked up all of your energy for a week. How could you explain that to anyone?
How would I know this? Because I've suffered from depression. It hasn't been easy to talk about because of responses, PARTICULARLY responses from many who share my faith: Pray more. Serve more. Have more faith. *Ahem* I can't pray, I am completely alone. Serve more? I can't even get downstairs to do more than pour cereal for my kids. Have more faith? How dare you.
I will say that it has gotten easier to talk about more in recent years because people are more willing to talk about it, but there is still a faction out there -- even among my own contemporaries -- who erroneously think that the cure for depression is simply more faith. And for years (ever?) there hasn't been anything said in official church literature to suggest otherwise. Scripture, ancient and modern, is filled with direction to increase faith, so that was the go-to answer, and it simply doesn't apply to mental illness.
As I write this post, the transcript isn't even available yet online (I'll post a link when it is) (EDIT: here's the talk), but one of the first things Elder Holland said is this: "There should be no more shame in acknowledging mental illness than there is in acknowledging high blood pressure."
And here's the kicker: THIS (and so much more of what he said) IS NOT NEWS TO THOSE OF US WHO HAVE SUFFERED DEPRESSION.
The reason this is a big deal is because it's now been said by an apostle.
I think this is good news. Is it unfortunate that people who have, in the past, thought that the only help for mental illness is to have more faith haven't listened to those who have suffered, or even medical professionals who explain that this is, indeed, a medical issue? Of course. But now those people, when they have questions and don't know what to do, in their faith, as they search lds.org for mental illness or depression, Elder Holland's talk will be available and hopefully they will take these words to heart: "The rest of us can help by being nonjudgmental and kind."
So much power in that phrase. Because kind people don't say, "Oh, she's crazy," or, "Yeah, but you can't really rely on her, she's taking meds for depression," or, "Doesn't she see a therapist? That's too bad."
Yes, this talk was balm for those suffering depression, not just because it's an outstretched hand from a servant of the Lord in validation of our private suffering, but also because it is now a resource for those who truly do not understand but are faithful and will believe the words of a servant of the Lord, the result of which will bring more understanding, more patience, more healing, more love. Please Bless.