Aside from the obvious answer that they can turn to the Savior, where are concrete, physical human beings actually within reach to whom Latter-day Saints who suspect they may suffer from mental illness may turn? Some suggestions I have heard from caring individuals on various blogs and in other discussions on this topic are listed below, with a critique of that source from my (limited) perspective. I invite everyone to offer their own perspective so that I, in turn, can offer it to people I know who stand in need of help but are unsure of where to turn.
I appreciate Ronan’s informative post over at BCC– it provides a great starting point. Here are the sources which I see as possibilities to get help, and my comments/questions/concerns regarding each:
Talking to the Bishop:
My first reaction to this idea is that the Bishop can refer you to counseling or offer practical guidance to help you. Besides, talking to the Bishop can never be a bad thing, right? Well, I’m not so sure about that…
If I had a problem with mental health such as depression or anxiety or similar, I would be probably be loathe to discuss it with the Bishop. For one thing, the Bishop is not a trained counselor, though he can certainly refer you to one. Bishops’ viewpoints on mental illness can vary greatly from person to person, because although the Bishop has a spiritual mantle and special gift of discernment, he is still a man subject to all the biases and preconceptions that come as a function of his upbringing and general world view. One Bishop might correctly refer a person struggling with these issues to an appropriate professional, where another might suggest that the cause is entirely spiritual and inflict more harm by suggesting that the person so afflicted must be doing something wrong, heaping more guilt/shame on an already irrationally self-blaming conscience.
Another reason why I would be hesitant to approach a Bishop with such issues is that the Bishop is a judge in Israel, not a counselor. If I were suffering from prolonged depression or anxiety, I probably would not have done anything that requires input from a judge in Israel (even though, in my irrational state, I may think I have). I am afraid that when members approach Bishops, too often the "judge in Israel" switch may turn on, causing Bishops to judge where they really just need to listen and refer the problem elsewhere.
Finally, I would hate for my family to be the topic of discussion in Ward Council meeting, where the Bishop out of genuine concern opens his mouth and discusses my problems with everyone there! Not all Bishops would, but I have sat in enough PEC meetings and ward council meetings where just that has occured to be very wary of it.
Once the news gets to the ward council members, it might as well be broadcast to the ward. ("Did you hear about _____? Oh, I feel so bad about ____. I’m just thankful I’m not in that situation ….", etc.) No thanks! It seems like that may unfairly stigmatize your family and put a brand on your head forevermore, branding you as "having issues" and barring you from future callings that may be necessary for your spiritual growth and development.
On the other hand, the Bishop is concerned with and has been given a charge concerning both our temporal and spiritual welfare, and probably is entitled to inspiration on issues such as mental illness. Whether the Bishop listens for it or not is another issue.
Personally, I would be wary of turning to the Bishop first. If any of you have personal experiences with this or know someone who did this, please share.
LDS Family Services:
This is definitely a resource to consider. Ronan suggests that in order to gain access to this service you have to be referred by your bishop, which may be true in reality if not in theory. According to information at providentliving.org, individuals may also contact LDS Family Services on their own (contact information here):
Professional counseling can assist members in a variety of situations. Common reasons for counseling include, but are not limited to, marital conflict, parent-child conflict, addiction, abuse, depression, anxiety, and same-gender attraction. Working with the member and the member’s bishop is often helpful in changing destructive behaviors and creating healthier relationships. A bishop and member can often determine together if professional counseling might be helpful. To receive counseling services, members may be referred by their bishop or branch president, or they may contact the agency directly.
However, even though it might seem one has the ability to contact LDS Family Services on one’s own, I highly doubt that one can use this service without involving the Bishop at some point, because this service is so inextricably woven into the Church network. That is not necessarily a bad thing (I mean- wouldn’t you want your Bishop to know? But see above re approaching the Bishop…), but it is certainly a consideration to make.
I invite anyone who has used LDS Family Services or knows someone who has to comment on the experience and if it was worthwhile or not. I have my doubts about its efficacy, nut mostly just because I am wary that it may be too reliant on spiritual means for cure rather than physiological ones. I may be wrong and stand to be corrected if that is the case.
An LDS Counselor/Psychologist/Psychiatrist/Social Worker:
First of all, I don’t even really know what the difference is between the different titles underlined above. What kinds of different treatment do each offer? Which one would a depressed person, or one suffering from anxiety disorders, or one suffering from a pornography addiction, or from "I-don’t-know-what’s-wrong-with-me-but-I-NEED-HELP" type issues?
That said, I might be willing to trust an LDS counselor above a non-LDS one because I suspect there are counselors out there in the world who have the philosophy that many of these depression/anxiety related issues stem from living in a "prohibitive" religion. I would want to seek out someone who knows that living the restored Gospel can and should bring happiness, and therefore knows that the gospel is not the problem.
However, an LDS counselor might, again, be too tied into the church network. As happened to the fictional Septimus H, the counselor could even be in your own Church network. Maybe humility is in order, but I would be very embarrassed if I had issues and anyone in my ward/stake who I might actually have contact with at some point were to actually "find out" about my issues.
Also, word of seeing an LDS counselor would probably end up worming its way back to the Bishop, which, as described above, can open up its own uncomfortable can of worms. If you are reading this in Utah, you may think "yeah, right" to yourselves. But out here in Texas and elsewhere, this could be a real possibility.
Seeing an LDS counselor definitely has its benefits where whatever counsel is rendered comes from an informed LDS perspective, but for me personally there would be too big a risk of "getting caught." Anyone have any experience like this? Am I worrying too much about this?
Besides, how in the world do you get hooked up with a good LDS counselor anyway, aside from discussing it with your Bishop? Ronan posted a link of LDS service providers, but I doubt it is all-encompassing or in any way complete.
Seeing a Non-LDS Counselor/Psychologist/Psychiatrist/Social Worker:
With this option, you probably wouldn’t have to worry about people at Church (or anywhere else for that matter) finding out that you have been getting mental help. I understand that "other people knowing" should not be an issue, but I think it is an issue for many people, particularly those who are already thinking irrationally due to their mental condition for which they are seeking treatment.
However, who knows what informs this person’s philosophies. This may be the type of person who believes that religion is the biggest motivating factor in depression/anxiety related illnesses. (I would be inclined to believe that myself at times if I didn’t have faith, based on personal experiences, that religion is supposed to bring joy, not sorrow, and I am a religious person!). If I were having mental/emotional difficulties, I would not want to put my delicate soul in the hands of a faith butcher, exposing to him/her my religious jugular.
So I would not be likely to seek treatment from a non-LDS professional.
I would have a hard time seeking help from any of the above-mentioned sources for the reasons given in additional to other reasons. Even if I were inclined to find a professional, how would one even go about doing so? Does one talk to a primary care physician in the first instance? What if you are the type who never goes to the doctor, and don’t even know your primary care physician? Where do/can the mentally ill actually turn for real, tangible help RIGHT NOW, as opposed to faith for healing in the future from a being not of this world?
I would appreciate any insights or experiences regarding where such people can turn for peace. Thank you.