Understanding Mental Illness
There are many kinds of mental illnesses that affect the way the brain functions. They can affect thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and the ability to understand information. Mental illnesses are different from everyday experiences of sadness, feeling upset, or daily problems. Mental illness makes normal living difficult.
Some mental illnesses are severe and disabling. They may be lifelong illnesses that can be improved but not cured. Some are less severe and are more easily treated or cured. Only a trained professional should make a diagnosis of mental illness. It is often difficult for others to tell the difference between human struggles or behavior problems and mental illnesses.
Mental illness is often poorly understood. This keeps many people from seeking help and receiving treatment. It may be difficult for people with mental illness to talk about it and get support and understanding from others.
The causes of these illnesses are complex. They are usually the result of problems in brain functioning, genetic vulnerability, trauma, chronic thinking patterns, or other emotionally difficult experiences. People with mental illnesses cannot just will themselves to get better. Blaming the person or others for the illness is harmful. When others respond with compassion, it can help the person feel more comfortable.
Most people with mental illnesses are neither violent nor dangerous. Recent advances in treatment have made it possible to manage or treat most mental illnesses. Most people are helped by treatment from a trained mental health professional. Other people can help by providing loving concern, support, and spiritual strength.
Ways to Help
- Learn about mental illness from professional sources, including LDS Family Services and mental health professionals. A bishop may give a referral to a licensed therapist through LDS Family Services.
- Treat the person with understanding and compassion. Reassure the person that Heavenly Father loves him or her.
- Remember that mental illness is not a punishment from God.
- Realize that a mental illness cannot be overcome by willpower alone. It does not indicate that a person lacks faith, character, or worthiness.
- Help the person develop confidence through knowing that God supports his or her efforts to cope and build strength.
- Do not take problems that are a result of the illness personally. People with mental illness may feel frustrated and upset because of the illness.
- Include the person in Church activities and appropriate service opportunities. Consult with the person, family members, and others who know the person well to identify limitations as well as strengths.
- Do not argue with delusional ideas or pursue topics that increase agitation. Be aware that stress can make the illness worse.
- Mental illness may require a person to make major life changes. Where appropriate, prayerfully consult with priesthood leaders, family members and caregivers, professionals, and the individual concerning a need for change.
- Some mental illnesses reduce energy and motivation. Recognize that it may be hard for individuals with mental illness to read and pray.
- If a person misinterprets scriptures and principles, he or she may feel distressed. Help the individual to focus on correct doctrine rather than becoming upset by limitations caused by the illness.
- Use uplifting music to reduce stress and be a soothing comfort.
- Focus on strengths. Design activities that are within individuals’ abilities so they can feel success. If their speech or behavior is inappropriate in class, give them assignments such as choosing the hymn, reading a poem, or other more structured tasks.
- If members are too ill to attend meetings and activities, include them by making home visits, taping lessons, or bringing them handouts.
- Let individuals participate in making decisions about what they can handle. For example, if a person has panic attacks when speaking in public, let him or her contribute in a way that is less frightening.