By Kathryn H. Kidd
Church members don’t bat an eye when they tell people they’re suffering from an ear infection. These days, nobody is embarrassed to admit he has diabetes. Even talking about cancer doesn’t raise the red flags it used to do.
But mention mental illness, and Latter-day Saints get nervous. We get so nervous, as a matter of fact, that many of us don’t talk about mental illness at all. If we’re depressed, we don’t tell our friends. Even more serious, we more often than not don’t tell our doctors. Because of that, mental health issues that could easily be treated often go without treatment.
Latter-day Saints can’t be blamed for wanting to hide emotional problems from the family doctor. Some traditional mental health professionals have a bias against people who have religious convictions. In fact, some actually believe that if you think God communicates with you, that alone is evidence that you’re crazy.
Resource for Latter-day Saints
Over the years, members of the LDS Church have asked questions such as: Where can I get help for my son’s pornography problem? How can I deal with my friend’s homosexual feelings? Are there any good books on blended families or single parenting? Are there any LDS Alcohol Recovery Support Groups near me? My neighbor committed suicide – what can I do to help the family?
Now, there is a single place to find answers to all these questions.
The Utah-based Mental Health Resource Foundation has taken upon itself the task of finding appropriate mental health professionals to treat Latter-day Saints who find themselves or their family members suffering from mental illness or from addictions or other self-destructive patterns of behavior.
In fact, the members of the board – who include James O. Mason, Joe J. Christensen, Ardeth Kapp, and other prominent Latter-day Saints –agree with the American Psychiatric Association in defining mental illness as “a brain disorder – an illness that affects or is manifested in a person’s brain,” and that may affect “the way a person thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. Mental illnesses are real illnesses – as real as heart disease and cancer.”
Although the foundation agrees with the American Psychiatric Association in the definition of mental illness there is a big divergence after that point. The Mental Health Resource Foundation recognizes that people who have religious faith want to be treated for their mental disorders without being challenged or judged for their religious beliefs. In fact, they want to use their religious beliefs as a resource in dealing with such challenges.
In order to bring consumers and responsible mental health professionals and resources together, the Mental Health Resource Foundation brings thousands of articles, websites, books, personal stories, and other information into one “Yellow Page” online directory to help people. This free, online library located at www.MentalHealthLibrary.info is a valuable resource to anyone searching for information about mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia. Resources are also available on topics such as addiction, same-gender attraction, physical and sexual abuse, codependency, and family relationships.
Foundation volunteers have spent thousand of hours over the years reviewing LDS Church publications, websites and services. Resources from the Ensign, LDS Family Services, The Distribution Center, Church Lesson Manuals and other LDS sources have been carefully indexed by topic into the Foundation Library. A patron can enter the LDS section of the Library and find everything from a listing of LDS Family Services-sponsored Pornography and Addiction Recovery Groups to the Association of Mormon Counselors & Psychotherapists listing of available LDS Counselors in the U.S.
In addition, articles from BYU Conferences and Workshops like Families Under Fire, Education Week, and Cyber Secrets: The Problem of Pornography, are also available in the library. The collection is so extensive that Joe J. Christensen, member of the Foundation’s Executive Board and Emeritus Member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, described the Library as, “one of the world’s finest libraries of mental illness, addiction, and emotional resources for Latter-day Saints and other religious denominations.”
The Foundation Library also provides quality national and international resources, including hundreds of mental health websites in their native languages of German, Finnish, Swedish and others. During recent months, people from over 70 different countries have visited the Foundation Library. Recently the Foundation launched a similar Internet based library in Spanish at www.AyudaParaMi.Info. Once again the Foundation volunteers have catalogued the myriads of resources for patrons’ easy access. The Mental Health Resource Foundation is a private non-profit foundation which respects and applies principles and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An important aspect of the library is that it is not just designed to help Latter-day Saints. Religious people who are not Latter-day Saints, but who need information about mental health professionals who will respect their beliefs, can also use the free resources of the foundation website.
Putting all these resources together in a centralized location has been a boon and a blessing for Latter-day Saints, as people who have used the service can attest.
After finding much needed information on single parenting, a Relief Society president from Florida wrote, “I just found your marvelous site. I am grateful for the help.”
A recovering alcoholic from Connecticut after discovering several LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Programs near his home said, “I find your website fascinating. The materials on church support groups are a treasure find!”
A bishop in Oregon regularly using the Library to help his ward members wrote, “I have found many things on your site which have been helpful to me in my efforts. I hope you are here forever, or at least until I am released!”
“Dr. Rick” Hawks, the director of the Foundation, explained, “When Joseph Smith was asked how he governed his people so well, he replied, ‘I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.’ (Journal of Discourses 10:57.)” He continued, “The Foundation believes by giving Saints access to resources, they can help themselves! Even those with the most serious mental illness or emotional problem can do something to improve their condition.”
A Unique Situation
Dr. Rick added, “Research suggests the lifestyle of LDS people appears to have a significant positive impact on overall health. Nevertheless, in the shadows of each chapel there are members who continue to experience mental illness, addictions, and emotional problems. Church members – including leaders – are in no way exempt from these conditions.
“For example,” he continued, “during recent years, LDS Family Services has sponsored addiction recovery support meetings to assist individuals who desire freedom from alcohol, drug and pornography addiction. These support groups are now available in dozens of LDS chapels – from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Kuopio, Finland.”
And in fact, with some conditions like depression, members of the Church experience the problem more frequently than their non-LDS counterparts. Dr. Stephen Bahr, BYU Professor, concluded in a recent publication that, “Depression was one area where LDS people did not do as well as non-LDS people. In particular, LDS women reported more depression than non-LDS women.” (A Statistical Profile of Mormons: Health, Wealth, and Social Life 2004).
As members of the Lord’s Church, we are not promised immunity from problems. There is a great need for members to learn about available resources, both religious and private. Thanks to the foundation and its library, church members and other people of religious faith can finally receive the help they need without fear of ridicule for their spiritual beliefs. Because of the efforts of foundation volunteers, help is on the way for many struggling Latter-day Saints.
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.