Those of you who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are likely familiar with the Ensign. For those who are not, the Ensign is a magazine from the Church that comes out once a month with gospel related messages and stories. Twice a year it contains the General Conference talks from Church leaders.
I try to read the Ensign every month. The other day I was reading the September issue when I came upon the article, A Better Way to Measure Myself, by Heather J. Johnson. As I read, I felt a familiarity as she wrote about dealing with feelings of stress and anxiety on her mission, wondering if she was good enough. In fact, I wanted to reach out and communicate with her via the article and say something like, “maybe you have OCD!”
Instead, I kept reading and was slightly disappointed when she wrote about reading a Church article and then deciding that she was not properly using the Atonement. Of course, I shouldn’t judge. Maybe she does not have scrupulosity OCD. Maybe that article was the appropriate answer for her. We probably all need to better at properly using and accepting the Atonement. It’s sound advice.
In fact, her article was very good. Her advice was helpful, especially when she talked about how some of us feel like (and I quote from her article), “‘Our best’ is always out of reach.” I liked the questions she laid out that we can ask to see if we are on a proper spiritual course. Her message overall was sound.
I just so badly wish that the Ensign had put a disclaimer about scrupulosity and obsessive-compulsive disorder with the article. Yes, for some people, advice like Johnson outlines is great and enough. But for those who have a very real and very debilitating mental illness that hounds them with feelings of religious and moral hyper-vigilance and guilt, articles like this can exacerbate the OCD. They might read it and be left with feeling even more guilt—like their problem is a spiritual one of not accepting the Atonement properly rather than a treatable mental illness.
So many people who suffer with religious or moral scrupulosity do so unknowingly. They don’t realize that those are forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be treated with medication and cognitive behavior therapy. Instead, they often beat themselves up over perceived spiritual and personal shortcomings and feel unworthy. They may not want to bring it up with anyone else or may find themselves over- or unnecessarily confessing to the Bishop.
This is why awareness matters. This is a why simple thing like a disclaimer at the end or beginning of a well meaning Ensign article matters—because someone who is struggling—and who may have been struggling for literally years—with scrupulosity may see it and take action. They may finally begin to realize that they are not spiritually lacking but suffering from a mental health issue. They might find hope instead of guilt.
That’s part of why I started this website and wrote my book. Awareness is crucial. We need to speak up so that others can find help and hope—and so that those without OCD can know how to help their loved ones or friends who might be struggling. It’s not always easy, but I strongly feel that it’s our responsibility to do so.