A week before General Conference “proper” begins, General Conference “officially” begins with the General Women’s Session. Here, speakers are usually one of the First Presidency along with selected leaders from the General Relief Society, Young Women’s, and Primary organizations.
This year, the Relief Society was represented by First Counselor Carole M. Stephens. She gave a talk entitled “The Master Healer,” referring, of course, to the Savior Jesus Christ.
The mental health nod
Most interestingly to me, her talk included the personal story of Josie, a woman who struggles with bipolar disorder. I consider it a win when mental illness is mentioned in Conference, so I was excited to hear how Sister Stephens would address mental health concerns through this story. She read from the words of this woman, and afterwards summarized the experience by saying,
“From the dark abyss of debilitating mental illness, Josie summoned the strength to testify of Jesus Christ and of His Atonement. She was not healed completely that day, but she received the light of hope in a time of intense darkness. And today, supported by a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and refreshed daily by the Savior’s living water, Josie continues on her journey toward healing and exercises unshakable faith in the Master Healer. She helps others along the way.”
As an important side note, I would like to add that my sincere hope is that Josie is also getting the proper psychiatric care and therapy as bipolar disorder is an extremely challenging mental illness. That aside (and I wish that General Authorities would always put a plug in for appropriate medical care in addition t a testimony in order to find healing and peace when dealing with mental illness!), I did appreciate a few things about Sister Stephens’ recap.
First of all, she acknowledges that mental illness is debilitating. It isn’t just something inconvenient, annoying, or bothersome. It can be a complete roadblock in your life. “Just get over it” isn’t a helpful piece of advice. It seems like Sister Stephens understands and appreciates that.
Second, she states that Josie wasn’t completely healed after a spiritual experience or reminder of the Savior’s love. It gave her hope, though, and that was enough at that moment. I think too often we expect or long for miraculous, immediate healing. That usually doesn’t happen, especially with mental illness.
Next, Sister Stephens tells us that Josie remains strong in the Gospel and continues on her journey with that support. We can have a lot of supports along the path—the Gospel, faith, our testimony, our families, proper diet and exercise, medication, therapy, helpful books, friends, etc. Some may be more “supportive” than others, but we have to remember that all of these positive things help us towards our end goal. We shouldn’t expect any one to be the magic key to our success. We have to do the work. We have to put forth effort. It is each of our personal journeys. But by all means, use your supports.
Finally, she mentions the Josie helps others. I strongly believe that we aren’t healed miraculously and immediately most of the time so that we can endure the experience, learn, and then use our knowledge, wisdom, and empathy to help others going through similar problems. I hope we can all do this instead of suffering alone.
Indeed, in the concluding portion of her talk, Sister Stephens reiterated with the reminder,
“You don’t have to experience the painful realities of mortality—alone.”
We may (probably will) have to experience “painful realities of mortality.” That’s kind of the point. But we aren’t alone. We have those support systems. We have each other. And we have, as Sister Stephens reminds us, the “Master Healer” on our side. Don’t ever forget that.