As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s October 2013 conference talk was concluding, I posted on Facebook, “Oh Elder Jeffrey R Holland…You are an instrument in helping so many feel peace. Speaking of depression in General Conference just opened the door to so much healing, communication, and hope.” Within hours, there were over a 150 “likes” on the post. Elder Holland’s talk regarding mental illness, emotional difficulties, and specifically depression seemed to quickly find its way into the hearts of Saints who were listening. I saw more on social media about this talk than any other talk. Addressing the topic of depression in General Conference may not be a first, but having depression be the subject and main point of a talk just might be (I haven’t looked back and studied that fact).
A few insights:
- Elder Holland shared with the church the fact that he had suffered from a bought of depression. He didn’t share the details or duration. But knowing that at least one of the general leaders of the Church has dealt with depression surely helps some who are struggling with depression to feel some empathy from a beloved leader. He shared, “At one point in our married life when financial fears collided with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real. … With the grace of God and the love of my family I kept functioning and kept working, but even after all these years I continue to feel a deep sympathy for others more chronically or more deeply afflicted with such gloom than I was.”
- Elder Holland shared that a number of leaders has suffered from depression. One who is depressed often feels like no one would understand what they are feeling.
- Elder Holland taught that depression is more than having a bad day or a bad attitude. Depression is much more, and requires more than just changing our minds or having more faith.
- Hopefully Elder Holland’s discussion of depression will help members of the church have more discussions with their priesthood leaders and families so that they can get the help they need and desire.
- Elder Holland taught that often an expert’s help is needed. I would see a physician for a heart condition, right?
Finally, a personal note. After serving as our ward’s bishop for about fours years, I just could not shake the anxiety I was feeling. It wasn’t depression (so far as I can tell), but it was quite a struggle to manage projects, interact with people, or have the energy to do much of anything in my day. I’m sure my anxiety does not compare to anyone else’s experience (everyone’s experience is different). I prayed a lot and tried to analyze what the problem was. Was it sin? Was I guilty of something? Yes, but nothing major. Was it a chemical imbalance? Maybe. I’m imbalanced in a hundred ways. Was it inherited? Maybe. I have a number of families members who have dealt with anxiety over the generations.
I tried to just deal with it. Just wake up and remember how great your life is and be in a good mood. It would work for a day or two, then I’d sink back into a grey-skied personal feeling of anxiety and low-level dread. I finally decided that I would just live with it, fake my way through many days, and hope God would lift the curtain on how to be “my old self” again…
One day I was speaking to Janese about how I was feeling. She suggested that I go see a counselor at LDS Family Services. I immediately waved off the help, asking “what kind of bishop has to go visit with a therapist!?” In her sweet way, my wife explained that I was consistently sending people to visit with a counselor or therapist, and that there would be more than a hint of hypocrisy if I thought I wasn’t a possible candidate for that kind of help.
That was it. A light came on. I immediately called LDS Family Services and made an appointment. It took a few days to get in and I was quite nervous, but I obtained the blessing I was hoping for. I’m not here to tell you that “it all just went away”. Hardly. I still struggle with anxiety. But, after some work with a wonderful therapist, and some considerable effort, I felt better. Not completely, for sure. It wasn’t immediate, and I’m not done with anxiety, but the improvements thus far have been long-term. I feel much better and am happy–genuinely happy. I’m thankful that I was finally able to take appropriate action to get the help I needed. Things have improved and we’ll see where things go from here. I’m grateful that Elder Holland was inspired to address this subject.
These views are personal, and are not the official views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints...