Today I want to take you way back to 1975. I wasn’t yet born then, but some of my siblings were. Not that it matters exactly… I just want to examine a short statement from then Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown given in a talk in October of that year entitled, “An Overview of Church Welfare Services.”
Since being called as Relief Society President in my ward, I have come to gain a better understanding of the Church welfare services. I am grateful for them, and I hope that those who need assistance get it from the right sources promptly. But for today’s post, let’s look at one thing Bishop Brown states, over forty years ago, and see if we don’t think it’s still applicable. He said,
“One of the most serious challenges facing priesthood leaders today is in the area of social and emotional needs.”
I’m sure I’m not alone in agreeing that this is still one of the most serious challenges in our wards and stakes today. So why hasn’t it been better addressed? Or do you think it has?
There are counseling services for mental health needs in the Church. But, as our Stake Relief Society recently told me, these services are underused. Why is that?
Hesitation with resources provided
Personally, I don’t go through church counseling because OCD is one of those tricky disorders that really benefits from a psychologist who is specifically trained to handle it. Also, insurance. Also-also, I did once try to set up a counseling appointment with them but the appointment times didn’t work with my schedule (and I don’t know if I was really ready to go to counseling at that point).
Others might not even realize that it is an option. I think this is where ward leadership knowledge and training are so important, as are open minds and a non-threatening environment. When someone feels safe at church or has a good relationship with their Bishop, Relief Society presidency, or Priesthood quorum leader, they then hopefully feel more able to disclose sensitive mental health issues and problems. If they are afraid that the person will just laugh it off or tell them that they are “fine,” they might not even bother bringing it up at all. Then the problem remains and stagnates, resources go unused, and often, things get worse.
A proactive approach
But, when a leader knows about the emotional welfare resources of the Church (or even knows enough to say: “Go get professional help” versus “Just pray and fast and that should do the trick”), progress can happen. I accompanied some missionary companions to counseling appointments at local buildings (I sat in the foyer while they had their meeting, of course). Why? Because our mission mom (mission president’s wife) knew not to just brush aside emotional or mental health concerns. If you had a serious problem that affected you, she had a questionnaire you could take which then allowed her to get you the appropriate help. The Church tries to take care of its missionaries (at least those who are open enough to let the right people know), and it strives to take care of its general membership.
One of the problems, as I see it, is that it can’t fulfill that purpose if local leaders ignore mental health issues and just consider them to be inevitable and unfortunate circumstances. Maybe instead of food order after food order, some people could benefit from receiving the mental health care the Church has to offer, stabilize, and become self sufficient once again. When members seek counseling from Bishops, wise Bishops would hopefully refer them to get professional help in addition to spiritual blessings and direction.
My Relief Society presidency and I discussed this topic a bit in our most recent meeting. One of my counselors made a statement implying that our mental, physical, and spiritual health are all important and interconnected. I think that this is so true. It is difficult to keep your physical health in check when your mental health is out of whack, and we could say the same when comparing any two of those three. Should we add social health too? Bishop Brown might. But maybe I’m too antisocial to worry about that too 😉
How do you think ward leaders can better facilitate help for mental illness and health concerns?