The Gospel Won't Pull You Out of Depression


I am grateful to readers of every faith who read my blog. This post is particularly written for people of my faith, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (to keep it easy I am going to refer to us as Mormons), but everyone is welcome to keep reading.

If your house were on fire, would you run outside, kneel down in front of it and insist that if you pray hard enough, you will be able to put the flames out? NO! You would get yourself and your loved ones to safety while making sure the fire department was on the way.  And pray.

I'm going to talk about depression in much the same way.

If you haven't been happy in a long time, if you are consumed with feelings of inappropriate guilt, worthlessness, or self-hate, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others or killing yourself, you are severely depressed. Your mind is broken. And probably your heart, too.

Your mental and emotional house has essentially burned to the ground.

That sounds dramatic and serious, doesn't it? It happens to people more often than you ever hear about. For some, a stressful event sets it off. For others, brain damage from an injury causes them to sink into despair. Chemical imbalances within the brain can also be to blame. But depression is real

Depression is not a reason to be ashamed. It is not something that can just be "snapped out of." And please, my fellow Mormon friends, understand, it is not a question of worthiness.

My response when depression set in after a difficult break-up was to immerse myself in activities that demonstrated my faith. I did not know what depression felt like, nor did I think I had it. I was just very, very sad. Terrifyingly sad. If I could just show enough faith, everything would be okay again. So I tacked on an extra 15 minutes to my scripture reading. I made plans to be in the temple for baptisms once a week. I prayed hard.

I felt worse. Dark thoughts were growing in my mind. Time to work harder.

I sought advice and direction from my parents and bishops (from my singles ward, and my home ward). Fast Sunday was too far away, so I would fast now. I received priesthood blessings from my dad. When I continued to plummet, I quietly sought blessings from each of my grandpas, too. 

I started to question whether I was beyond help. Each attempt to demonstrate my faithfulness seemed to sink me deeper and deeper into despair and I did not receive the peace and relief I sought. Suicidal thoughts surfaced and what terrified me most was that they made sense. Surely I was dragging everyone who cared about me into my despair with me, and the future didn't hold any promise. Each day, despite my very best efforts, was progressively worse. Getting out of their lives would be, in the long run, the best and most selfless thing I could do for the people I loved.

I was attending church and institute regularly, and I was suicidal.

I thought my soul was in trouble, which is a common misunderstanding when people of faith are depressed. Actually, it was my mind that was sick. 

When you are under the grip of what Elder Holland has called "the dark night of the mind and spirit", the gospel alone won't pull you out.

You cannot pray depression away anymore than you can pray the flames of a burning house away.

You cannot bless it away with the priesthood.

You cannot fast it away.

You cannot drown it in the scriptures.

It won't even leave you alone in the temple.

Like a burning fire, it demands to be dealt with. 

When you are depressed, your mind is broken. Your brain is sick. That part of the equation must be dealt with. Do not abandon the time-tested true principles of the gospel. However, there is supreme danger in ignoring your mental health, even when you are living the gospel to the best of your ability. You need them both and one will not make up for the other. Ask those close to you to pray with or for you as you seek proper treatment and care for this mental illness.

The house is not burning because there is something wrong with the house. It is burning because it is on fire. You are not depressed because of some character flaw or defect. You are depressed because you are participating in the human experience and have been dealt a heavy blow.

*****

This post has been on my mind for a long time, but I struggled to give it a title. "The Gospel Won't Save You..." or "The Gospel Won't Rescue You in Your Depression" wasn't right because the gospel did save me in my depression. Once I accepted it was my mental health that was in trouble and was more receptive to treatment, I began to improve. But it was knowing there was nothing and in my case no one so broken that Christ could not repair which truly started to bring me out of the darkness.

Just as He would help me rebuild my life out of the ashes were my house to burn down, so He did with my broken mind and heart.

So He will do with yours.

And I bear testimony that we are under His watchful care through all of it.



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