Showing posts with label mental illness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mental illness. Show all posts

Addressing Mental Health and Prayer with LDS Youth

Coming from someone who was in Young Men/Young Women adjacent callings for years in my previous ward: the most important thing I ever said to a room full of teenagers is that mental illness doesn't mean that God has given up on you.

Even if your family is no longer in the Church, do yourself a favor. Go say those exact words to the Mormon/Mormon-adjacent kids and teens in your life.

How did we get to the place where we have to say that? I have theories based on the youth I taught. The group who needed this the most were the teenage boys. Hands down. No question. And I think how we get here isn't necessarily through "mental health treatment doesn't work" messaging. The youth I had weren't sequestered from getting real professional help. 

What I think goes wrong here is the idea that prayer helps in every situation.

People with mental illness have a very different relationship with prayer than those without it. Prayer does not cure, or even improve, mental illness. I will go so far as to say the best messaging is that prayer has no impact on mental illness.

Kids in religious households need to hear this very explicitly. They need to hear it from the adults they love and trust. The first person saying it to them should not be their Sunday School teacher when they're 14 and 15 years old. (Ask me how I know.)

What happens if they don't hear that? The following logical progression: I am depressed, anxious, struggling with an illness in my brain. I prayed for help. I can't "feel" the answer. I'm too broken for God. God doesn't love me anymore. 

They will go to this place on their own, independent of the example you've set for them in pursuing mental health treatment in your own life. They need someone they know and trust to help them contextualize religious devotion through the lens of mental illness.

I would also add to this: There isn't anything wrong with teaching young children that they can feel answers to their prayers. There's a lot wrong with that messaging if it doesn't evolve with them as they grow up and mature into adulthood. 

As a religious person with mental illness, God isn't someone I interact with through my feelings, especially when I'm in crisis. God is the one teaching me to reach out, ask for help, and to keep asking until I get the help I need. God is the one in that situation telling me not to give up on myself, and to take care of myself. 

When I'm in crisis, there is very little else God is going to be saying to me. Why? Because God knows better than I do that Prozac is better than prayer for me in that moment. It can make religious people uncomfortable to say this because they feel like it's admitting failure in God.

To me, it's like purposefully having a conversation in a loud room and making the person I'm with scream at me, when I already know they don't like to yell.

I take my medicine because it quiets most of the noise from my mental illness most of the time. Then when I pray, it's less of a struggle to hear and interact with God. That's just the nature of being me. There's nothing wrong with that. And it doesn't mean God doesn't love me.

Our teens struggle more with their mental health than other teenagers because they're getting very different messaging about God's direct, granular involvement in their lives than most other teenagers, with no corollary for mental illness. So they go from "God is in every detail of my life" to "God is nowhere to be found." 

That's not good! It's enough to make any mental illness worse because our youth feel like the most loving, most selfless part of their support system abandons them when they need it most.  

If you're going to raise your children in a religious environment, there needs to be a healthy understanding that God isn't a magic gumball machine who takes away every problem just because they pray. How we talk about mental illness needs to be a part of that.

Time Deserts

You know those times in your life when you're basically free falling through your problems, and the only control you feel like you have is trying not to collide into too many passing objects? Sometimes it works and sometimes it just doesn't? I've felt that way for a long time.

I'm trying to make my way towards wellness because I can feel the sum total of stress and mental illness robbing me of my precious time that I will never get back.

I'm unwell because it's so hard to take care of myself. But because I'm not taking care of myself, I can't get well. It's a cycle I've lived with it for so long. But it's different now because I now have even more people I take care of who depend on me.

I've gotten really good at positive self talk, which has been really helpful. I can find success in the most seemingly inconsequential moments of living. And it is making all the difference in feeling like I'm regaining some control.

Much of how I feel has come through the gradual erosion of my choices, until finally I felt powerless and overwhelmed by everything I couldn't change about my own life. Like all my choices were taken away from me. But I don't have to go on believing that. Throughout my day are moments I didn't choose and can't control. I can't do anything to change them. But surrounding those moments is always time that I can choose what to do with. That time still belongs to me, and I can decide how to use it.

I have enough appointments and daily/weekly tasks that every day feels overwhelming. I've been avoiding calendaring/scheduling it out because I am afraid of what seeing it all spelled out on paper is going to do to me. I'm realizing living that way is making it worse, not better.

I'm missing opportunities to accomplish what matters to me because I treat myself like an endless supply of time and resources that are available to anyone at any time. Nothing that matters to me is ever important enough to take my time away from someone else. The thing I've been avoiding is exactly what I need. If I'm not scheduling the things I wish I didn't have to do, I'm never going to make time for myself and my goals. It just won't happen.

If I want my life to be different, I need to see and treat myself differently. I can't change my circumstances. But I can change how I respond to them. And I need to believe I'm important enough to do that. Because nothing is ever going to get better in my head if I don't.

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