Mental Health and Mormonism in Cyberspace

There is a fascinating cluster of mental health posts in the Mormon blosmos.

Steve M. from the Bubble has kicked off an interesting discussion about depression and Mormonism.

From the Ashes picks up the topic and provides an excellent discussion of a peer reviewed research article on depression and Mormon women. Anyone who is more interested in facts than opinions, should read her post.

Probably by coincidence, The Cultural Hall gets a piece of the action as well.

Steve begins with his personal experience and then explores mental illness in Utah and how LDS authorities relate to mental illness.

Here is how Steve understands the relationship between genetic predisposition and Mormon culture in his own case:

Looking back, I can identify habits and thought patterns typical of OCD in myself as a young child. I believe those have been with me for as long as I’ve been able to think, and are probably the result of some biological factor. On some level, I think that my own struggles with mental health are rooted in a genetic predisposition.

However, I can’t deny that my OCD has been influenced by my environment. My dad demanded virtual perfection of me as an adolescent. I went to early-morning seminary every day, attended church every Sunday, held a part-time job, saved for a mission, earned my Eagle Scout award, participated in extra curricular activities, took a number of AP classes, maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school, and abstained from drugs, alcohol, and the other vices in which my friends indulged. I never stayed out too late, never got into serious trouble, and never used profanity in my parents’ presence. Yet my dad still had the audacity to call my work ethic and integrity into question whenever he spotted the slightest chink in my armor. As a result, I came to believe that nothing short of perfection was acceptable, and that I was constantly on the verge of plummeting into the dark pit of selfishness, slothfulness, and moral depravity.

With respect to Mormon culture, Steve concludes:

. . . there is at least a lack of awareness among Mormons regarding mental illness (this is likely also true of the general public at large). There is also a possibility that culture-specific factors may complicate things for those facing mental illness. Many Latter-day Saints who have personally dealt with the effects of mental disorders feel that the pressure to be “worthy” and live up to the commandments, coupled with widespread misunderstanding about the nature of mental and emotional disorders, can be debilitating to sufferers.

A case in point would be that of sixteen-year old Kip Eliason, who in 1982 committed suicide out of the anguish and depression resulting from his inability to be “worthy” by totally abstaining from masturbation.

Coincidentally, Tom Sawyer posted a masturbation confessional on The Cultural Hall.

Was your experience growing up anything like mine? Did you find the inclination difficult, if not impossible to control? Did masturbation hurt you spiritually? Should it hurt us spiritually? Have you adopted a more mature and open-minded view of masturbation as an adult? What do you teach your kids regarding masturbation? Or do you teach them anything? Is Cyndi Lauper right: do we all “bop”?

Regarding Masturbation and the Church…

Has the Church adopted a more lenient view on masturbation in the past 20-30 years? Is the masturbation question still asked of our youth? Can masturbation keep someone off his or her mission? What should the Church’s position be on masturbation (in your opinion)? Same as it ever was? Don’t ask don’t tell? Repent only if one feels it has become a “problem”? Are there any historical LDS precedents on this front? For example, was this issue even on Joseph Smith’s radar screen? Brigham’s? Does LDS views on masturbation differ significantly from mainline Christian views?

Given that mental health is a matter of life and death, we should probably all take a little time and sort out our position. Steve’s, From the Ashe’s and Tom’s essays are a good place to start.

7 thoughts on “Mental Health and Mormonism in Cyberspace

  1. Interesting reading. I am touched by the stories they shared on mental health issues and the hurts that can happen to people suffering who are misunderstood or given improper treatment or being told they are sinning and need to fix their lives in order to be happy.

    Sad.

  2. I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression at the age of 17, but had been suffering with it for years before. I felt that the answer to every one of life’s problems could be handled through my faith. If I prayed enough, read enough, attended enough, it would all go away. This attitude was backed up by my LDS parents and leaders. Back then, depression wasn’t really understood, especially in teens. It didn’t work, incidentally. I remained depressed, but I was also ashamed of it.

    One of the biggest concerns for me is that the Church promotes a sense of self-sufficiency that bleeds over into mental health issues. Couple that with the belief that all answers can be found on your knees, and you have yourself a population of isolated, helpless individuals. Now there are programs (The Star Program, Church Social Services) that address these issues, but I still think there is a lot of shame attached to it. ‘You aren’t doing well enough’.

    This is underscored by current events in my life. I was finally diagnosed with bipolar II, and two years ago, bipolar I; I am going through a myriad of things, including a divorce. My brother, who is a bishop, still puts it to me that if I would ‘just come back to the Church’, the Lord has ‘blessings’ for me. It’s as if he were saying God is withholding ‘blessings'(aka my life is a mess), because I am not Mormon.

    This attitude of being the One and Only Truth is damaging on many levels. The unspoken message is that your best is not good enough; especially if you are mentally ill. It’s the worst form of spiritual sabotage.

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