Making Sense of Mental Illness

Whether you struggle with mental illness or want to help someone who does, you can find hope by understanding it more thoroughly.

“She’s gotten so crazy!” “He had so much potential.” “Snap out of it!” We often say things like this when we don’t understand how to help friends or loved ones suffering with mental illness.

As Jan Underwood Pinborough explains in an Ensign article, mental illnesses are more common than we might think. Some individuals “feel pain and confusion so great that life is almost unbearable.” Yet people around them sometimes don’t seem to recognize their suffering at all.

Sometimes, we don’t understand how to handle our own mental illnesses or know when we should ask for help. “What is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I feel anything?” “Maybe if I were more valiant, this wouldn’t happen.” “Heavenly Father, why won’t you help me?” In these situations, we tend to isolate and blame ourselves, or we feel embarrassed and angry. However, Sister Pinborough helps us realize that we don’t need to feel guilty and alone.

Discussing several types of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, severe depression, and anxiety disorders, she offers hope: “The key to that hope is understanding. For the victim of mental illness, hope lies in being properly diagnosed and treated—the sooner the better. And for family members of the mentally ill, help comes best from those who understand the illness.”

Sister Pinborough also discusses ways others can help, such as expressing love and interest to the victim and the family, withholding judgment, increasing acceptance, and giving needed help.

There are no easy answers. However, the Lord can bless us in our struggle to find greater understanding about how to help ourselves and others.

Read Jan Underwood Pinborough’s full article, “Mental Illness: In Search of Understanding and Hope.”

Source: The Ensign

—Jessica Staples, Mormon Insights

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  1. Several years ago, my wife’s brother committed suicide. The event shook my wife and her whole family. It was unexpected. Later we found out that he had been seeking help from a psychiatrist, but he was embarrassed to talk with his family about the problems he was facing. My brother-in-law had no support system in place, and when life became too hard, he decided to end it. To this day, I will occasionally find my wife crying over her lost brother. The hurt is real and will never truly go away.

    Last month my family had a shock of their own when my sister’s husband took his life. He had a support structure, but felt that he was a burden on those around him. He was properly medicated and had been doing very well, but after hitting his head (and perhaps getting a concussion) he went south quickly. We never know when something tragic will change our lives. My sister and her daughters are struggling from day to day, fighting guilt and sadness.

    Hope is key to fighting many forms of mental illness. As the saying goes: Hope conquers fear. Every day you must take a step forward and everyday hope for a better tomorrow.

  2. I am reminded of Elder Holland’s talk “Like a Broken Vessel.” It can be intimidating to both ask for help and to give help to someone struggling with mental illness. We need to remember to “[be] merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.” There should be no shame in asking for help, just as with other illnesses God wants us to reach up and to seek out the best help available.

  3. Although I myself have never struggled with mental illness, almost every member of my family has. I’ve seen how it’s affected their day-to-day lives and for some, their testimonies. Although I can’t completely understand what they’re going through, it gives me comfort that the Savior does–perfectly.

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