Today I taught a Sunday School lesson on Joseph Smith’s experiences in the Liberty Jail. He spent almost five months in an approximately 5’6″ tall room (he was 6′ tall) with 6 other men in the middle of a harsh Missouri winter. While there he proclaimed,
O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
Given the circumstances of his time in Liberty Jail and the despair that he expresses in letters and even in scripture I realized that I could make a legitimate claim that Joseph had either mild depression or seasonal affective disorder. While I hesitate in providing an armchair diagnosis to someone who has been dead for nearly 200 years, this idea felt right to me. Who wouldn’t suffer from a chemical imbalance when he or she was locked in a small room, unable to stand up straight with no bedding, little food, and exposure to the harsh Missouri winter?
I know I would.
Perhaps that’s because while I was on my mission I was diagnosed with clinical depression triggered by stress and anxiety. I remember thinking, like Joseph, “O God, where are you? Why did you abandon me am I not doing enough? What is wrong with me?”
I couldn’t work for weeks and when I did I do something I half assed it. I felt like the walls were closing in on me and I had no energy. I spent 2 months like that. Then I got transferred and things got a bit better, but it was hard the rest of my mission. Even now I have my days and weeks.
My experience is not unique. I know that thousands of missionaries and members of the church feel the exact same way.
Former President of the Church George Albert Smith has become a wonderful example of someone who suffered from severe anxiety and depression. It was so bad that between 1909 and 1912 he would not give any public addresses or travel because his “nervous condition” was so severe (Woodger 113).
I don’t entirely know why depression has gained such a stigma in modern culture, especially in the church. I’ve had first hand experience with people telling me that if I would only pray harder or study the scriptures that my depression would go away.
It doesn’t work that way.
You can’t wish depression away. It takes work and support and counseling and treatment.
God has provided resources that give hope to the hopeless. Why would we not use them?
God has provided resources that give hope to the hopeless. Why would we not use them? #depression
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In my experience there are many well intended people who do a lot of harm to those with depression. They tell people to cheer up and they tell people that they have the power to conquer their depression. To those people I offer a few concrete suggestions on what to do or say to help people with depression.
- Listen – Don’t try to fix their situation, just listen. They need to know that someone is listening and not judging them.
- Let them know that they’re not a burden – Most victims of depression feel like they’re life is a trial for everyone else. They have horrible feelings of inadequacies that are crippling. Provide them with sincere, specific examples of what they do that helps you.
- Don’t lie – Usually people can tell that you’re lying. It always made me feel even worse when I could tell that people were just making stuff up to try to make me feel better.
- Assume they’re already doing everything they can – Some well intended people have offered me suggestions about what I can do to help with my depression. These people are well intended, but if I have the courage to confide about my depression with you then I have already come a long way. Recognize that.
- Don’t push too much – If a friend confides in you and says that they’re not ready to see a counselor then don’t push them too much. In my experience the more someone pushed me to do something that I wasn’t ready for the more I resisted. If you really want to help, then help them take steps when they are ready.
- Be a friend – Let them know that they’re loved, but not in a “sad smile” sort of way. Don’t feel sorry for them, but really care about them. Listen to promptings to text or email them just to say that you’re thinking of them. Trust your gut.
- Don’t judge them – Watch what you say about depression around people. You don’t want to spread stereotypes that will be damaging to someone’s future treatment.
Depression is a serious issue that hurts thousands of people. We live in a society that has serious issues with accepting depression. Please me more conscious about the way that you talk about depression around everyone. You never know who will have a period of their life where he or she needs counseling and treatment.
While my list is a good start, it is far from complete.
What are some ways that you suggest that people can give support to people with depression?
- When Someone You Care About is Depressed (zelophehadsdaughters.com)
- Depression Part Two (hyperboleandahalf.com)
- The Critic on Your Shoulder (ldsmag.com)
via experimental criticism http://www.experimentalcriticism.com/2013/07/21/depression-and-the-gospel/