Mormon author talks about his mental illness and faith

Understanding panic disorder, agoraphobia and OCD

By Robison Wells

For Real Intent

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 10:00 a.m. MST

No small part of the suffering experienced by those with mental illness is the direct result of the ignorance, prejudice, and wrong-headed thinking of family members, friends, business associates, Church members and others. I firmly believe that as in other areas of life, conveying the truth is the key to banishing ignorance, stigma and prejudice that surround mental illness. Such truth will, I trust, encourage sufferers from mental disorders to seek appropriate and ecclesiastical and professional assistance, and help dispel their own debilitating fears, feelings of guilt, and self-doubt.

It's worth noting that even the most elect among us have been struck down by mental illness. Though not widely known and discussed, President George Albert Smith suffered from some undiagnosed condition likely a panic or anxiety disorder, or depression where even as prophet he often was unable to attend church services for months at a time. The Journal of Mormon History, by Mary Jane Woodger, details some of these problems:

[A] granddaughter, Shauna Lucy Stewart Larsen, who lived in George Albert's home for twelve years as a child, remembers that "when there was great, tremendous stress, mostly (of) an emotional kind, it took its toll and he would literally have to go to bed for several days." Grandson Robert Murray Stewart remembers, "There were problems associated with his mental health, just maintaining control of himself."

So what can be done about this? If mental illness is real and doctors and ecclesiastical leaders agree that it is then what can you and I do to relieve the suffering of those around us? I hate to bring up an even touchier subject than mental illness, but we can do our home teaching. I can't tell you the number of times I've wished we had regular home teachers to visit and understand us. I am in constant need of priesthood blessings, as is my wife, who has faced the brunt of this burden. For that matter, visiting teachers who really care and understand (and visit!) have been an enormous benefit for my wife.

And we can do as Elder Morrison suggests: Find ways to stamp out ignorance, act without prejudice, and correct the wrong-headed thinking that is so pervasive on this issue.

And in all of these solutions, the real key is obvious: Love unconditionally; seek to understand; act with kindness. It's the solution to dealing with those with mental illness, but it's the very core of the gospel itself.

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