[This is the second in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The other installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness]
The church’s web page about mental illness includes a brief list of potential causes. These can include physiological and/or behavioral factors.
Mental health or functioning can be compromised due to heredity; birth defect; oxygen deprivation at birth or later; biological trauma (concussion, brain clot, hemorrhage, tumor, seizure activity, bacterial infection); medication, drugs, food, additives, environmental hazards, or other substances that effect brain function; nutritional deficiencies, sensitivities, and anemias; sleep deprivation and its opposite–prolonged bed rest or other immobility/ limitation of physical movement…
Behaviorally, mental health can be hampered by child, spousal, or elder abuse, neglect, or abandonment; untreated mental illness in, or substance abuse or poor modeling by a parent or other caregiver; an extreme mismatch between parental and child personality or temperament; food insecurity; prolonged or extreme economic hardship; being a witness or participant in war, violence (including rape and other forms of sexual attack), accident, illness, injury, or other trauma; imprisonment, forced relocation, theft, or other curtailment of liberty or autonomy; divorce and other losses; a variety of continuous stressors; and (yes) guilt over personal sin & transgression.
Usually, difficulties stem from a combination of these, and include both known and unknown factors.
Reviewing a list like this, it is amazing that any of us are mentally whole! Oh, wait, none of us is, completely. But mental illness signifies difficulties severe enough to interfere with “normal living” (church website terminology). Some individuals can endure amazing trauma, loss, injury, or illness without losing their ability to function on a day to day basis, and these are not always those perceived as the “most spiritual” among us. Yet when someone does NOT seem to be doing well emotionally, we often assume that shaky spirituality is at fault.
We can easily see why. Gospel living is designed to give us a measure of happiness and peace in this life as well as in the world to come. I believe that the core doctrines of Mormonism strengthen mental health. Consider these:
We are children of perfect, loving, beneficent Heavenly Parents who desire our progress and growth
Our agency is valued–even essential
Our lives have purpose and our efforts are not fruitless (those who keep the commandments are blessed)
Grace is available for our wrongs and hurts
Those without law are not condemned
We’re not expected to run faster than we have strength
Illness and hardship are part and parcel of the mortal condition, not punishment
We are each only accountable for our own sins
Justice and mercy will be perfectly served by and by
But sometimes, because of these helpful truths, we erroneously assume that individuals who are not happy, hopeful, or functional have reached that state specifically because they are not living the gospel as they should. While sin and transgression can be one cause of despair, it is only one of a myriad of potential causes. As for functionality, while we don’t expect the gospel (or God’s power) to cure every other ailment that impairs functionality, we do expect that it should cure every mental one, whether physiological or emotional. I think this is a mistake, and believe this is why the church now recognizes the importance of not “blaming the victim,” the reality that in some cases, mental illness is lifelong or terminal, and the need for those with mental health struggles to obtain skilled professional help.
*Author’s name has been changed due the sensitive nature of this series of guest posts