Depression, Elder Holland, and Members of the LDS Church, and Me…


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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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...

39 thoughts on “Depression, Elder Holland, and Members of the LDS Church, and Me…

  1. Robyn Esplin

    I loved your comments! Many have suffered or are suffering from anxiety/depression. Aren’t we grateful that the Lord has provided medical help, counselors to talk to, Priesthood Blessings, and especially the Gospel to hold onto!

    I think the GREATEST blessing of all is when you’re doing better and you meet someone else who is suffering with it, you can say, “I know how you feel,” and REALLY know how they feel! YOU can then give them the support and love they need. Our trials then can become someone else’s blessing because then the Lord can work through us to succor and give compassion to someone else. We truly need each other!!!!!

  2. Rachel

    I’ve never watched General Conference before because I’m not LDS. I just felt moved to watch it this weekend for some reason, and Elder Holland’s words just blew me away. Depression is a heavy weight in our family and I rarely hear it addressed from any religious leader from any church to which I’ve belonged. I was actually touched by most of the messages from this weekend’s General Conference, and I feel spiritually blessed to have “virtually” attended.

    1. BJM Post author

      Rachel…I’m glad you found my blog and think it’s great that you were able to catch a bit of General Conference. I just went a read a post on your blog about your recent study into the LDS Church and Book of Mormon. Best wishes in your search! If there are any questions you’d like to discuss, please let me know. I’d love to discuss! 🙂 MickelsonBJ {at} gmail {dot} com… Hope to hear from you again 🙂

  3. Suzy Lish

    Now it is up to each and everyone of us to “DO” it. Love and support each other without judgement, no matter what our load is we are carrying.

  4. B.J.

    I have undergone every kind of treatment for depression for twenty years. I have six adult children. I thought if just for a second Elder Holland could hear what the oldest two (who had the healthiest time in my life ) now say to me. “When you get better, THEN we’ll talk to you. In the meantime, we’re ditching you and telling our children you’re dead.” All because, over the years of struggling I have said s few hurtful things to them, i.e.., “you’re not honoring your priesthood”. Which he wasn’t. Or the saw me reach for the knife and thought I was going to kill myself. I have never touched them, or spanked them, and have taught them every gospel principle I knew. Family prayer every morning and every night of our life. All three boys went on missions and all children are very active in the church. One is now on the high council (thought he would not “allow” me to attend his ordination) and one daughter’s husband is in the Bishopric. Every morning I wake up and remember how much I gave to them and my church callings and remember how much they hate me, I feel my 60 years on this earth are done… To think that I know they listened to Elder Holland’s talk and they still feel the same way, doesn’t offer much hope.

    1. BJM Post author

      I’m really sorry to hear about your experiences with your children. I wonder how many times I have just plain not understood what someone was going through and then mistreated them. I shutter at the thought. I appreciate you checking in here. Thank you.

      1. B.J.

        What do you think BJM? Think I just didn’t understand my son’s words to me here as you suggested?

        “Yep, as long as you got the message you are no longer a part of my or my families life. Also you should know including my wife in your ‘down with Me’ campaign only further solidifies our decision to not include you in our lives. Certainly I can’t change my family tree, but I sure can decide who gets to play under it.”

      2. BJM Post author

        That is not what I meant at all. I was wondering if they don’t understand what YOU are feeling and going through, and have mistreated you.

  5. Julie Hess Davison

    2 1/2 months ago, my Father passed away. It has been a very trying and difficult time, though I know he is far better off now, and that with “patience” I will see him again. Nonetheless it is still very heart breaking.
    Elder Holland’s talk couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. I so needed to hear his comforting words and the words of all the other Elders. Conference was just amazing this weekend. Each talk seemed to be, just for me.

    1. BJM Post author

      Julie…thanks for commenting and sharing the “tender mercy” you’ve received. I’m sorry to hear about your father’s passing.

  6. Adam Jeppson Gunsmith

    I am glad that you had a “Scooby-Do” ending with your depression; all smiles and happiness. Must be quite a blessing. I have yet to find that type of resolution. I understand that my problems are just that, my problems. I understand that somehow I should “give” all of my problems to The Lord and, in his own time and wisdom, will fix everything and I will find peace. It says so in the books. I’d really like to hope I can get there before I die.

    I have been in a life long struggle with Depression, Anxiety, searching for the truth concerning our Lord and Savior, dealing with the lies, hurtful things and other misleading obstacles prevalent in the “Mormon” culture. The things many people teach, preach, force feed, and swear by that have no base in scripture, prophetic revelation or church literature. I was the target of many an abuser and vicious “good Mormons” for so long that my perception of God was twisted into literally being afraid of God as the vengeful tyrant of the old testament waiting to lay siege on my unworthy soul and damn me to eternal hell for being so evil. Nice way to grow up.

    There is more, but not here or now. I am in the process (seemingly endless) of coming to know my Savior. Discovering, for the first time, who he really is. I am sorting through the lies, the venom, and the hateful B.S. that was the church of my past and am trying to find the truth. I am dealing with chronic pain, physical and mental, and honestly life sucks. I am, however, stubborn, tough as nails, and unwilling to quit.

    I’m not entirely sure why I responded to this string. Perhaps to show that sometimes the “Mormonism’s, urban legends that are everywhere in this church, and at times the out right fiction people shovel to illustrate their point bear no productive fruit on those of us who fight hour by hour, even minute by minute to keep on with the struggle for sanity and enduring to the end.

    If your experience is genuine then I celebrate your being blessed. May there be more than you can contain. If not please don’t condescend. That hurts.

    1. BJM Post author


      I’m really glad you responded to this post, because it has given me cause to think a little more deeply about what I wrote and what you, and others, will read. Let me take a moment to clarify.

      My experience is genuine. But it certainly isn’t everyone’s experience. I know that. That wasn’t my point, so I hope that wasn’t what I communicated. If that’s what I have expressed, please forgive me.

      Second, I would love it if my story was a “Scooby-Doo” experience; all smiles and happiness. It wasn’t. And it isn’t. I am happy, but the anxiety hasn’t gone away completely. Not at all. I still feel it creeping in, but I’m thankful that I’ve learned a few ways to deal with it. I hope it improves, but I’m not sure if it will. If, somehow, I’ve communicated that my problem just went away, no effort, all blessings, then once again, I owe you an apology. That wasn’t my intent at all.

      Lasty, you and I haven’t had the same experience. Nor have I and a million other humans who have struggled with some form of depression or anxiety had the same experiences. Because of that, I can’t spend any time comparing my situation to others. When others have successes with their struggles, I don’t wonder at the genuineness of their experience, especially when they’ve found some success with something they’ve struggled with. When another person struggles in a way that seems (and probably is) much deeper and longer than my experience, I don’t have a judgement for them, either. One person’s successes or struggle with a problem that is similar to mine has no bearing on my situation. I may be influences by it, but not affected.

      If sharing my personal story has come across as condescending, then I apologize to you for that as well. I think you know that wasn’t my intent.

      Best wishes 🙂

    2. BJM Post author

      You know what Adam? I’m going to do a little re-writing. Give me a day or two. You’ve given me some things to think about. Thanks!

  7. Stephanie

    I was very grateful for this talk by Elder Holland. My personal experience with depression has been and continues to be a daily struggle. I have a great bishop and a great therapist who have helped me leaps and bounds but I never to seem to climb completely out of the hole I seem to have created for myself. I have never doubted my Savior or Heavenly Fathers love for me but as others have said sometime that doesn’t give you enough buoyancy to keep your spirits up. My respect to everyone and anyone who deals with depression in any degree or any other emotional, mental, or physical pain. I love that this topic was addressed and pray that we as a society can strive harder to be more compassionate and understanding with people suffering in this way. This is a poem I wrote I hope it’s connection and meaning to this topic make sense. Don’t misunderstand that all I think it takes is faith because I know from experience faith helps but sometimes we have all the faith in the world but it doesn’t seem to change how we feel.
    The Purpose

    What’s the point is what I’d said,
    I’m tired of trying I’d rather be dead.
    Then a strong feeling took hold of my heart,
    There’s more to your life than just this small part.
    I said I felt insignificant and completely small,
    His voice responded with that isn’t true at all.
    From the smallest of insects to the tallest of trees,
    All of them have a purpose, a mission that not everyone sees.
    You are mine and I have a great purpose for you,
    Though I can’t make you do it for that is up to you.
    You have an amazing purpose because you are mine,
    I have created in you love and a nature divine.
    I can’t tell you yet you’ll know when it’s time,
    But keep trying my child for your mission is sublime.
    I can’t tell you everything though I wish you could understand,
    How intricate you are in the things I have planned.
    I’m scared and hurt I say in my confusion,
    What great reveal will I get at the conclusion?
    Trust Me He says I know where and how I need you to be,
    But right now all I need is for you to show your faith in Me.

    1. BJM Post author

      Thank you for visiting and providing a link to your blog. I just read of your experience with Elder Holland. The timeliness of your experience is miraculous to me.

  8. Lindsay Johnson

    I was very happy to hear Holland discussing mental disorders, but frustrated to hear the example he gave of a woman battling depression. Holland opens his talk with a discussion on psychoses and neurosis, chemical imbalances and inherited mental disorders like bipolar. But it seems abundantly clear that mental disorders are all the same to him- when he concludes giving a prolonged example of a mother battling depression because she faces the consequences of her decision to risk her life by taking a small plane ride. WHAT? I wont ride in a small plane because I’m not willing to take the risk. She was and now must deal with the unfortunate consequences. Boo Hoo.

    Bipolar isn’t a risk or a consequence someone has a choice of dealing with in their life. We are aware of a teenager in our stake whose family was unwilling to help him. In fact, they allowed themselves to be estranged from him. He was an only child. They allowed him to join the military, early entry. They didn’t like his symptoms- strong sex drive, explosive behavior etc. He tried to commit suicide while in HS living with his father in UT. He was explosive and depressive. He didn’t stay with them while visiting before his deployment. He killed himself with his own service revolver less than a week after reaching Afghanistan. And yet his so called parents pretend they’re parents of a war hero.. According to their facebook page etc. NO KNOWS the agony this poor fellow faced because his family didn’t help him and the military wouldn’t accept him if they knew he was bipolar. He couldn’t get help there without revealing the inherited illness he suspected he had. The risk and danger to fellow soldiers is too great to allow bipolars in. It was a secret and it’s still a secret to- classmates, teachers, church leaders, the entire community. We are only aware because NCIS visited and told us so just 10 days later.

    It’s infuriating that his family members don’t shed any light on the taboo subject of mental illness. Rather than working to prevent it from happening to others, its a secret. I believe Holland gave lip service to the subject of mental illness, but did a disservice, with his lame example, to those who are dealing with REAL mental imbalances & inherited mental illness. They don’t have a choice deciding whether or not they want to take a risk. The mother depicted in the story took the risk. Bottomline- She must live with the consequences of her poor choice, a principle taught to EVERY primary child in the church.

    1. BJM Post author

      Lindsay…I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Does the reason a person is battling depression matter? If someone suffered a brain injury in a car-accident that led to feelings of depression, or bi-polar, or multiple personality disorder (or anythings else), does that matter as far as their journey goes? Help me understand your view a little better 🙂


      1. AmericaWatch

        I think Lindsey is saying, yes, it does matter. To those born with it without knowledge or choice is different than bringing the consequences on by deliberate behavior. People who bring trials on themselves through sin vs. people who face trials because life throws it upon them. Doctrine teaches us that those two are indeed different. Then why not Lindsay’s example?

        I think I know of the gal spoken of in Elder Holland’s talk. She was warned by the spirit three times NOT to get on that small plane. She ignored the spirit each time, as she revealed in her book, sold at Deseret Book. If anything, her story should be about the consequences of not heeding counsel from the Spirit when she heard it so clearly. She has paid for that mistake dearly, bless her heart.

        This was a faulty example of “mental illness” and a great example of “mental anguish” and remorse. Especially when there are so many good examples to choose from.

        Utah falls 51st in the US for being able to treat mental illness effectively. That makes Utah BEHIND The US Virgin Islands! This is remarkably STUNNING and says a lot to back up Lindsey’s disgust in how this boy’s parents are handling the situation with their bipolar son’s suicide. Hide it under the rug, QUICKLY!

        As a Utah transplant, that is pretty much how the church leaders in Utah deal with many issues making it dang near impossible to live up to its bogus high standards. If the average Mormon in Utah really knew what real-life was like in their neighbor’s seemingly “perfect” life – they would be able to relax some about their own personal insecurities and family issues.

        Heaven forbid we admit that we weren’t all cut from the same cloth. For a church who readily admits we are ALL weak, we ALL have struggles, we are ALL asked to face things that seam insurmountable, we, in the LDS community, certainly want to hide that from everyone else lest they think badly of us. When we can’t, we break down, and think we are alone because everyone else seems to have it under control.

        Here’s a thought. If we didn’t need a Savior because we can all handle things so well, why would we have needed the Atonement? It is sad that we aren’t more open about the things we are going through. The truth is we would inspire those who listen and our stories would comfort those who need to hear them the most. The ones who think they’re alone in this vast world of mental/emotional health as well as other trials…

        EVERYONE has a story behind our “Sacrament Meeting” faces… We need to remember that – as we compare our insides to their outsides.

  9. jann

    I was encouraged when the bretheren addressed this subject. I suffer from depression and anxiety and for the most part feel alone. At times i feel so beside myself like no one understands.

  10. Eric Koford

    I just discovered this blog as I am preparing a lesson on Elder Holland’s talk. I don’t think that I my experience is different from many other people’s in that I have witnessed so many people close to me, who have battled with various mental/emotional issues. I am so grateful for people like Elder Holland who speak publicly about it and help bring it to open forums. It is such a painful topic, but at the same time it is so misunderstood. Also, the complexity and forms of such challenges frustrate even the most adept professionals. I feel encouraged and enlightened by Elder Holland’s talk and recognize that he was speaking about these challenges from a very high level and in generalities. He is honestly attempting to encourage, inspire, and give hope. That should always be applauded and adopted.

  11. DeliseHerem

    I have enjoyed reading all of the comments on this post. Mental illness is so hard. Everyone’s experiences are so different. I am grateful for Elder Holland’s talk and his willingness to share his own struggle with depression. I am 55 now and starting struggling with depression when I was 18. Not much was known about medications in the 70’s and early 80’s. People would tell you to snap out of it which felt like a slap in the face. I had depression for a year when I was 18 and then it did not flare up again until I was 30. Life’s stresses caught up to me cause I thought I could be Super Woman. I had a nervous breakdown and could not function. Finally in the 90’s I was able to get professional help which I was so grateful for. I tried many different medications and finally got on one that helped me. I decided to get on some natural stuff in 2007 and did ok for a couple of months and then I crashed. I should have never gone off my medication. It has been a spiral down hill ever since. I have been hospitalized 5 times, had electric shock treatment, and now am diagnosed with bipolar. As I look back at my life and have studied mental illness now for years I had bipolar from the very beginning. It is a day to day struggle still but not as bad as those days in the hospital. Not many people in my ward seem to understand it. I feel like they think I am crazy. But I know I have an illness just like diabetes. People should not judge anyone until they walk in your shoes for one day. I pray for anyone who has to deal with any mental illness. They say by the year 2020 one in every two people will struggle with some sort of mental illness. I hope I will be able to help a few people now that I am feeling better. I really do understand.
    Keep your chins up. God knows you on a very intimate level. Thanks again to all who have shared your thoughts.

      1. BJM Post author

        Your replies went straight to my spam folder for some reason, so that explain why they weren’t posted. Sorry for the inconvenience, but that is why they hadn’t shown up…I had not seen them at all. It was not a matter of me “only posting what I want to”…

      2. jann frank

        I suffer from depression and anxiety and have all my life. Csnt say there has been much meds that have helped. People dont understand unless they’ve been through it. Im a member of the church snd loved elder hollands talk. I feel left out so many times because I dont seem to fit cause of my illness. At times I feel members of the church dont understand unless they’ve been through it. BJM commented: “Your replies went straight to my spam folder for some reason, so that explain why they weren’t posted. Sorry for the inconvenience, but that is why they hadn’t shown up…I had not seen them at all.”

  12. AmericaWatch

    Can I ask how many children you have? How many have been diagnosed with ADHD? Do you suspect that your HUSBAND has ADHD. If ANY of these sound familiar please visit http://www.adhdmarriagedotcom before you go through ONE more ECT treatment or take ONE more pill. For the first time in THIRTY years of marriage my husband was FINALLY diagnosed. My story sounds much like yours. I’m now a physical nightmare because all these years the docs labeled ME – when it was him, all along. These meds were NEVER meant for long term use! Years ago I developed TD from one of the meds. Thankfully I lost the symptoms after six months of hell. Now that there is ALL this under our belts and children raised – we now what needed to be done when I was 30! And it wasn’t me taking meds!

  13. DeliseHerem

    To America Watch
    Sorry I have not responded sooner. Just looked at this web page tonight and just wanted to answer your questions. Every story is different; I could write a book as I am sure you could about your life. I come from a family history of mental illness; I had a great aunt who when she reached the age of 50 was put in a mental hospital and never got out. Bipolar usually starts as a teenager; not much was known about it in the late 70’s when I got depression. I was in an abusive marriage, had 8 pregnancies in 10 years, four lived and four died, moved 7 times in 10 years and thought I could be everything for everyone. My husband and I divorced after 14 years of marriage. He came from an abusive home and I had to break the cycle. He had a four year Hinckley scholarship to BYU and got his degree; he is very smart and my 4 children are too. He does not have ADHD and none of my children do either. I think I became worse when I hit 50 (hormonal changes and mid-life). I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me. I have tried to go off medications at different times but am not able to.
    So for me taking my medications is important. I don’t know the long term effects but if they help me not feel suicidal it is worth it to me. No one should have to live like that. Wishing you all the best.
    Delise Herem

    1. AmericaWatch

      Dear Delise,

      I’m SO sorry to hear of such hardship for you. Please be careful on what meds you are on and for how long. The long-term side effects are undetermined for many. If you need them, then you need them. Many times there is simply no other option and they are worth the risk; only you can make that decision.

      Good luck to you and may Heavenly Father be with you every step of your journey. 🙂

  14. DeliseHerem

    To: American Watch
    Thanks so much for the nice reply. I really have had a good life. I have four beautiful children and five grandkids. I know this experience has helped my family become closer; my 2 sons-in-law are great and have their own mental issues. We should never run faster than we have strength for. I did not follow this. If my challenges can help one other person it is worth it. I have reduced a couple of medications a little bit. I just don’t want to crash again. Thanks for your concern.
    Wishing you the best,
    Delise Herem

  15. Paula Goodloe-Neukam

    As I was reading the comments after the message Elder Holland shared with us. I was surprised about all the mental illness disscussion. I thought about (and can personally relate to mental illness, as I too am battling with my own) everyone’s comment and I realized the whole meaning of his talk was not to tell us every mental illness in the psychiatric handbook, or how some people have a hard and difficult time with their illness. It doesn’t matter what mental llness you have. Heavenly Father is mindful of you and your struggles. We should not be comparing our illnesses or thinking that ” she could handle and deal with it better”.
    We are all given struggles and trials to over come. Everyone is working on their level in their own way. The message I was left with was, compassion, love, understanding for everyone.


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