Welfare Services Answers Questions on Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Strength


The questions included in this article were answered by the following Latter-day Saint authorities in the field of social and emotional health: Ross Clement, Paul Cook, Elbert M. Dansie, Rollin S. Davis, Val D. MacMurray, Terry J. Moyer, Audrey Perkins, Brent S. Sharman, Ione Simpson, Robert D. Smith, and Edmond E. Tucker.

Question: Why are emotional concerns part of the Welfare Services program?

In 1936, President J. Reuben Clark gave us the spiritual definition of the welfare plan:

“The real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest down deep inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit, which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church.” (Statement made 2 Oct. 1936; quoted in Welfare Services Resource Handbook, 1980, p. 4.)

President Clark’s definition enables us to see that there is much more to welfare services than the production and distribution of food and commodities. The poor and the needy may be those poor in spiritual strength, needy in terms of the ability to cope with the stresses of modern life. President Joseph F. Smith reaffirmed this when he said: “You must continue to bear in mind that the temporal and the spiritual are blended. They are not separate. One cannot be carried on without the other, so long as we are here in mortality.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, p. 208.) Emotional problems are a legitimate province of the Church.

Question: What role does the Church play in helping individuals with social-emotional problems?

President Spencer W. Kimball has said that “the responsibility for each person’s social, emotional, spiritual, physical, or economic well-being rests first upon himself, second upon his family, and third upon the Church if he is a faithful member thereof.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 77.)

When an emotionally troubled individual cannot find a solution to problems by himself or through the help of the family, he may go to the bishop to receive the help he needs. If a bishop does not have the skills necessary to help those in severe emotional distress, he may call upon people within his ward or stake boundaries who have the necessary skills. If such resource people are not available in the ward or stake, LDS Social Services, in areas where it is established, provides consultation help to ecclesiastical leaders and, in some cases where it has the resources to do so, evaluation and treatment of severe problems as well.

The general curriculum of the Church as taught in Primary, Sunday School, Relief Society, and priesthood meetings is very important in helping to prevent emotional problems by teaching correct principles of thought and behavior. The support members provide one another in the Church also helps meet the emotional needs of individuals and helps to prevent many problems which might otherwise occur.

Question: My child is very shy. Is his timidity a symptom of low self-esteem? What can we do to help him?

Withdrawing from social interaction is a common way children adapt to life’s stresses. It is especially common at the age when children begin school. You should not be unduly concerned; however, if your child’s shyness is intense and frequent, it may affect his social relationships into adolescence and beyond.

Most studies done on causes of this problem emphasize the importance of the child’s basic temperament and how parents manage it. Perhaps parents have used too many “no’s” and “don’t’s,” and now their child may hesitate to do anything for fear of disapproval or failure. Or the shyness may indicate the child has been overprotected by his parents, having had no opportunity to progress at his own pace. Other parents may have been ashamed of a child’s reluctance and, by insisting on social performance or participation, may have pushed him into greater timidity.

Parents need an unusual amount of patience, encouragement, and flexibility in dealing with a timid child. The aim is to coax your child out of social withdrawal and to provide appropriate and enjoyable relationships with others. Help your child form at least one close peer relationship, and teach him how to maintain this friendship. Work closely with public school, Sunday School, and Primary teachers in developing plans to encourage greater socialization. A child just starting school may be taken to school early so he can get used to the surroundings without being confused by the presence of other children. Most children, especially in the younger age groups, respond well to consistent warm support from teachers, relatives, and neighbors.

Consultation with a competent specialist may be necessary if your child’s shyness is excessive and persistent, or if there are other problems such as excessive and unrealistic fears, extreme sensitivity, or unwillingness to let a parent out of sight.

Question: I have a friend who was recently divorced. She has three children, ages 5, 7, and 9. She seems very depressed and insecure. As her sister in the gospel, how can I help?

Depression and insecurity are common results of divorce and its accompanying loneliness. Your friend needs to feel your love and acceptance. She may need to draw from your strength as she struggles to make a new life for herself and children and to strengthen her relationship with God.

Be a good listener. Without prying, encourage her to talk about her feelings. Help her gain self-confidence by making genuine, positive comments about her and her children whenever there is an opportunity to do so. Let her know when you genuinely admire her efforts to rebuild her life and manage her responsibilities.

Be aware that her financial situation may be strained. Divorced women in the U.S. do not receive social security benefits (unless the ex-husband is over 65 or incapacitated) or insurance benefits. Many receive no alimony and cannot count on consistent child support payments. If your friend’s temporal means do not seem to be sufficient, let her home teachers, Relief Society president, or bishop know of your concern.

Do not assume that the “singles” or “special interest” group is meeting her needs. While these groups have value, she also needs to be recognized and included in general ward groups and activities. With the approval of your husband, invite your friend to sit with you and your family in Church meetings and to participate in special family home evenings or to go with your family to ward and neighborhood activities. She may be reluctant to go alone, especially at first, but she will appreciate your thoughtfulness. You might invite her, and perhaps another single woman, to join you and your friends for a dinner party, a discussion group, or a movie.

Your friend may be overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising her children, managing her home, and earning a living alone. You could offer to be a “backup”—someone her children could call if they get sick at school or otherwise need help when their mother is not available. Together with her home teachers, you and other ward members could offer to help her with “fix-it” jobs and other tasks around the house that may seem burdensome to her.

Question: Someone I know is constantly depressed. How can I help him?

Depression has become a catch-all word to describe anything from temporary discouragement to normal feelings of sadness. Clinically speaking, depression occurs when feelings of sadness or discouragement are prolonged (several weeks or months) and are accompanied by physical or emotional symptoms such as loss of appetite, decreased energy, difficulty in sleeping or concentrating, feelings of inadequacy, or the desire to withdraw from others or to commit suicide.

The problems connected with depression are often complex, requiring inspiration and often professional training to be understood and successfully treated. For example, some forms of depression have a physical cause over which the individual has little or no control. Others result from emotional problems. Sometimes depression is related to specific situations such as the death of a loved one, marital or family conflict, financial problems, or transgression.

The person who is depressed (regardless of how long, how severe, or its cause) needs support and reassurance. This is not always easy to give, because a depressed person is often resistant to the very things that could help him most. If you have observed a long-term depression, encourage the depressed individual to seek help. If the member is reluctant to seek help, share the problem with an ecclesiastical leader. The bishop can then further assess the member’s needs and see that appropriate help is arranged.

Those who are depressed often feel guilty; and going for counseling may accentuate these feelings, because the member may feel that he should be able to solve his problems alone. Be careful not to say anything directly or indirectly which implies that things would improve if the member would just try harder on his own. Self-reliance is a true principle—but it is not contradictory to the concept of getting help when it’s needed.

Be aware that the individual who is depressed may either withdraw from attempts to help, or become extremely dependent upon the one trying to assist. If he or she has always been overly dependent upon others, there may be a need to be supportive while encouraging greater independence. As appropriate help is received, the depression will usually lift and the need to depend on others will diminish.

In cases of depression, home teachers are in an especially good position to help, because the nature of their call “allows” them to inquire about needs, to be good listeners, and to offer service without appearing to be overstepping their bounds. They can be a valuable aid to the bishop by helping him understand crucial developments. This will enable him to make his personal contacts at the times most likely to be helpful. The home teacher can also coordinate help from various quorums and auxiliaries which may desire to be of assistance. And time spent praying together can be invaluable.

You might consider doing things and going places together (although the depressed person will often resist this), such as attending social activities where expectations for interaction are minimal. Most depressed people don’t need someone to take over for them—but they do need someone who will offer a consistent hand of support for a brief period until normal feelings are regained.

Remember that a person experiencing depression (or other emotional conflicts) may have confused feelings about the gospel, and may at times even hold the Church accountable for the problem. A sensitive friend will allow expression of these feelings and view them less a result of testimony weakening than as a symptom of deprecation directed at self and others.

Question: My spouse died six months ago. I’m very lonely and need some companionship. Where can I go?

The full impact of the loneliness and isolation brought about by losing a spouse is often not felt until months after the event. You are probably just now experiencing the full reality of your spouse’s death and your changed situation.

You will find yourself less lonely as you fill your life with meaningful activity. Go back to school or attend community-sponsored classes. Give service to others; visit and care for those in your neighborhood; give volunteer service to hospitals or to the community. Such service may also help you find someone with whom you can talk, express your grief, and recall and share the special, happy moments of your lost relationship. When possible, spend time with your family. Invite friends to your home, or go out with them.

In our couple-oriented society, you may feel left out. Don’t let such feelings make you withdraw and seclude yourself from the companionship of others. It takes courage to keep it from happening—but your future friends are out there! Find them. Being a widow or a widower is a challenge, but also an opportunity to grow. The time will come when you will have made the adjustment successfully. Then you will be able to enjoy both the memories and your new life.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Preston Heiselt