Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mormon Musings: Can Faith Wash Away Depression?

I want to explore the latest video the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put up online. I am not usually a fan of the Mormon Channel videos. They are often shot in a way that grates on my nerves because of their affected nature. Perhaps the heavy-handed sentimentality feels mawkish to me, as if the subject is delivered on the pages of a scrapbook photo album, turned in slow motion to stirring background music. I will tell you that I am very much alone in this regard. I know many people who absolutely adore this style of religious communication.

I was prepared to bail on this latest video as white, anti-depressant pills artfully cascaded across a white background striped with soft shadows, accompanied by dramatically swelling music, but the story of Heather and her thoughts on depression clung to me. I couldn’t easily shake them off.

Heather spoke of a conversation she had with her doctor where she was resistant to the idea of being medicated. She felt that her faith in Christ was supposed to wash away her depression. For Heather, taking anti-depressants was denying Christ’s power in her life since it deprived Him of an opportunity to heal her, and it denied her the opportunity to exercise faith in the Lord. This struck me because I had the opposite experience. I turned to anti-depressants and ADHD meds first, then despaired when, instead of helping me, they made me worse. Of all the meds that I tried, they either had no effect, they gave me side-effects, or they made me suicidal. I felt so lost and alone. I wondered why the Savior would not rescue me from my hardship. I had faith. All I had to do was but ask, right? Isn’t that what we are told?

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. ~ Mark 9:23

From our LDS scriptures, we have a story from Christ’s visit with the Nephites that is similar to scriptures found in the New Testament. It adds a condition, but still the sentiment is the same: Ask, and ye shall receive.

18 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.

19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;

20 And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.

~ 3 Nephi 18–20

How could wanting to be healed of depression not be right? Like Heather, I wanted my depression to be washed away. If it remained, that meant I hadn’t exercised enough faith. Heather & I aren’t the only Christians who struggle with this concept. We are rewarded only after we show faith. If there is no reward, we tend to believe there wasn’t enough faith. Instead of being healed, however, the answer to my prayers came at first in an epiphany that changing my thoughts could change my state of mind. Then that was followed with incremental bits of advice that taught me how to regulate my mind on my own. Only later did I learn that these techniques were the skeletal framework of cognitive behavior therapy.

Those who don’t believe in God have a hard time with this personal revelation thing. “You received epiphanies from God?” they say with eyebrows arched. Well, it’s not like I heard a voice from above declaring with thunderous reverberation, “DOUGLAS, THINKETH THOU HAPPY THOUGHTS!!” Spirtual revelation is more like an idea pops into my head that I didn’t have before—a sudden realization that is unlike my current train of thought. If accompanied by the warm embrace of the Holy Ghost, then I attribute the idea to Heavenly Father. Yet, what does it matter where I think the idea came from? If I got the idea off of Twitter, would it have been any less of an epiphany?

Regardless of the idea’s provenance, the idea that I could change my world by changing my thoughts was transformative. First, I had to train myself to think positively with one grateful thought a day. Then, when that became easier, I challenged myself to list more than one grateful thought a day. Soon, I discovered that I perceived the world differently. Where before I only saw darkness, now I could see the light breaking through. It made enough of a difference that I finally grabbed a foothold and began climbing out of the deep well of depression I had was trapped inside. Like Heather, the answer to my prayers wasn’t exactly what I was asking for, but it was exactly what I needed, and I’m much more balanced and happy today because of it.

Over time, I learned that the Savior had never abandoned me, and that my faith was not insufficient. The Lord had blessed me with the tools to manage my depression, and I acted on them in faith. He helped me change my perspective on life, and taught me how to offset the effects of my mood disorder. Clinical depression was a yoke I would have to bear for the rest of my life, but Christ had made it lighter.

Despite my cynicism, I ended up being thankful for that Mormon Channel video. Many latter-day saints with depression feel the shame that Heather spoke of and see the blank looks of incomprehension on the faces of loved ones, friends, and church leaders when they try to explain the crushing effect of this disorder. I believe that this video will do a great deal of good. How fortunate that Heather found a doctor who could help her reclaim her life and find happiness again. I am thankful for the effort my church has been making in the past few years to address mental health, specifically depression, during General Conference talks. It adds a necessary weight and authority to the subject that will help combat the stigma that even the saints perpetuate. Prayer may not wash depression away like mud off our souls, but people with depression can find the strength to get out of bed, take a step forward, and utilize the tools available to them to find relief. That help may be meds, it may be psychotherapy, or it may be cognitive behavior therapy. Sometimes exercising faith puts us in the right frame of mind to see the solutions in front of our eyes.