Yesterday, our company, Mental Illness Matters, sponsored an article and ad campaign on Deseret News to promote the upcoming Anxiety Disorders and Mormonism Conference. I had a fitful night’s sleep before the article went out, worried that we would be bombarded with comments asking what my “credentials” were (since that came up with my infamous anxiety article in LDS Living).
Before it ran, I thought that people couldn’t get mad about very much in the article. It was about my story and why/how I started planning and organizing the conference. What could people get angry about? And yes, we got some respectful, interesting comments, but I also got rude comments/emails and lots of mansplaining.
I’ve made many observations as I’ve spent almost the last two years promoting mental health awareness (especially in the Mormon community). The following is a list of things I’ve learned, some which relate specifically to Mormonism, but many which also relate to any “group” or subculture. These are personal experiences and observations, so no, they may not be “universal,” but they are mine.
Mental Health advocacy is not a lucrative career
I didn’t anticipate that it would be. I didn’t go into this thinking I was going to make tons of money. I thought that I might be able to help people, and I always did want to be a published author. But people, I am not making loads of money. Frankly, I think we are in the hole with the whole mental health advocacy racket/ conference planning/ book publishing endeavors. Luckily, I have a husband who can support my advocacy, so I don’t need to give it up and get a real job (or just stop bleeding cash).
We have been accused multiple times in no uncertain terms that our ADAM conf is “too expensive” and that the people who “really need it” won’t be able to afford to attend. We’ve been told we’re probably giving people anxiety by charging “so much.” We’ve been called unChristlike and instructed not to think we are “doing anything good or worthy.”
Turn the other cheek, right? Maybe. But I want everyone to know that yes, we’d love to have as many people as possible attend our conference, but there are also costs (and space constraints). We picked a nice venue that is not cheap (talk to the Church about that one, sorry 😉 so that people with anxiety or OCD would feel comfortable and safe. We are bringing in experts in anxiety and OCD who deserve to be paid for their time and the education they have received. We tried to get sponsors but, this being our first conference and a pretty narrow niche, no companies chose to participate.
We will most likely lose money that we have invested to make this conference happen. But we are okay with that. Sure, it would be great if I could be paid ANYTHING for the hours and days I have put into planning and promoting ADAM Conf, but most likely we will be paying out of pocket for it, even after ticket sales. Which is okay. So please keep your negativity about the costs of this conference (or any conference, really) to yourself. Putting it in perspective, it costs less than one hour of most professional therapy with a psychologist. Unfortunately, getting professional help costs money. Blame capitalism. Not us.
Sometimes the Church teachings breed a sense of entitlement
Before you send me hate mail for this one, let’s just think about it for a minute. We are taught in Church to help each other, give service, and provide for the poor and needy. We aspire to be able to give of our time, talents, and resources. However, sometimes this leads to some individuals feeling as if other people should give them their time, talents, and resources for free.
Maybe I read too much Ayn Rand as a teenager, but this is not an okay attitude to have. Many Mormons expect free help from other Mormons: pack up my moving van. Unpack my moving van. Bring me food for a month when I have a surgery. Watch my kids for me when I have a doctor’s appointment. Drive me places. Whatever. I’ve been a Relief Society President. I’ve been in ward councils. And by and large, Mormons in leadership try to provide as much help as they can. This is good and bad. Yes, we should help others. But we also need to help people become self sufficient, and I’ve seen that too many “free handouts” given or used in incorrect circumstances can breed dependence rather than independence.
Going back to our conference, we are not associated with the LDS Church. Yes, we are discussing Mormonism and anxiety disorders, but we are not entitled to give anyone free counseling or provide anything “for free.” Yes, I wish more people could afford to attend, but no one is entitled to do so. Just because we have “Mormonism” in the title does not mean that I have to consecrate my time, talents, and resources to allow everyone to participate. Maybe that makes me not Christlike, I don’t know. But I do know that Christ asked things of people. He asked for commitment and change. He asked that we don’t “run faster than we have strength,” and I think that relates to not running ourselves ragged or giving all we have and then having nothing left for ourselves and our own families.
Many members of the Church feel that the “negative” things that happen to “us” must be because of negative things happening in society
I have been asked or heard/read people questioning “why” mental illnesses and anxiety are so “prevalent” now. I am not sure that it is even true. Are there more or less cases of anxiety disorders now than at other periods of history? I don’t know. We have better ability to diagnose mental illness now, and more awareness of mental illnesses. These simple things increase the diagnoses.
But blaming mental illness on the disintegration of the family or whatever many LDS members love to blame all bad things on is irresponsible and probably untrue. I mean, then why did George Albert Smith have severe mental health problems and anxiety/depression (most likely)? He was an apostle and a prophet after all. Let’s stop assigning blame to “the world” and “society,” okay? Sure, there are definitely things that exacerbate and may increase various mental illnesses. I mean, I’m stressed with social media and the ability people now have to write demeaning comments and emails to me immediately. So yes, those things may contribute to mental illness. But so do many other things. I believe personally that mental illness has always been with us. In my opinion, it’s a human condition.
Mormons (and all people) often feel that they are experts
So many of us love to think that we are experts. This is a human problem, of course. Mansplaining is not limited to Mormonism, and neither is any gender thinking they “know” something. But everybody is different. I don’t need anyone telling me the medication I am on to curb my OCD obsessions and anxiety isn’t going to work for me because it’s an antidepressant and this particular person knows those don’t work for anxiety. Because guess what?! It does work for me! Thanks!
Especially if we do not have a degree or specialized training, we should refrain from making comments that imply that we “know” certain things or are experts. But the Church I think unfortunately has confused people with this, even with the simple testimony meeting line we hear TOO MUCH of “I know the Church is true.” Do you? Did God appear to you and tell you that? Do you actually mean the gospel is true? What does “true” mean to you versus anyone else? Let’s watch our semantics a little more.
But I think some Church members have this idea that, armed with the Holy Ghost/Spirit, they can “know” things that maybe they don’t have the ability to actually know. If it “feels good,” some take that as being enough. But there are spiritual feelings, and there are emotions (and there are mental illnesses). We just need to be aware of that.
We have received a question of why we are bringing in “non Mormon” keynote speakers for a conference on Anxiety Disorders and Mormonism. Why couldn’t we keep our costs down and glean for our own community? Because we need to realize that Mormons are not experts in every field. We need to understand that knowledge—important, life changing knowledge—exists outside of Mormonism. There are people who have studied, dedicated their lives, written books, and been parts of organizations that are making amazing changes and strides in the mental health world in particular, and we are foolish to ignore them because they are “not Mormon.”
This also drives me crazy when it comes to Bishops who only recommend “Mormon” counselors or LDS Family Services to those who are mentally ill. Let’s get people the best care for their issues, not just care from other Mormons. If other Mormons are qualified, great! But we shouldn’t limit our perspective.