Is Mental Illness a Latter-Day Plague?

[ 25 ] Comments

by jendoop

This forum question is part of our Peculiar Minds series.

Throughout preparing for the Peculiar Minds series I’ve been overwhelmed by the prevalence of mental illness. It really does effect a large majority of the population; statistics I’ve seen have put the number of people in the U.S. suffering from a mental illness as high as 50%. Think about that – it means that every person in America either suffers from a mental illness or loves someone with a mental illness, or both.

What is going on? Have there always been this many people with mental illnesses? Or is this a symptom of these hard times that are the latter days?


The Entire Series

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

25 Responses to Is Mental Illness a Latter-Day Plague?

  1. Cheryl says:

    Mental illness has always been around. I just think we talk about it more. But at the same time, I do think there’s a correlation with how we live now and mental illness.

    In my studies on nutrition, it’s amazing how much horrible things we are ingesting into our bodies that aren’t really “food.” Chemical warfare is probably the best term to use, because how food is processed –and even grown, now-a-days –is absolutely causing war on our bodies. This affects our minds in ways we don’t even understand (and usually don’t want to understand).

    And I find it ironic. Most LDS people won’t drink alcohol or smoke tobacco (let alone do harmful illegal drugs), but they will gorge themselves upon processed and pesticide laden food without a second thought. I have seen –in my own life –how incredibly worse my depression is when I’m not eating whole, organic food. People scoff at me and tell me I’m crazy and all conspiracist –but it’s absolutely true. I’m living proof, really. When I eat organic, non-processed, my mind is clearer.

    That’s not to say that ALL mental illness stems from diet. I know that’s not true. But I do think there’s something to it, do you know what I mean? And instead of changing our diets to help with our minds, we look for answers in the forms of western medicine (I say as a person who is taking anti-depressants and probably will always need to).

    But I don’t think it’s just diet. I think it’s the way we live, now. Everything is about entitlement, doing as little work as possible with the best outcomes as possible. That’s the goal. We don’t have to leave our homes if we don’t want to! Exercise is not a way of life (like when we had to walk to school or milk the cows or haul the hay or weed the garden) in our society and so we don’t get enough sunshine, we don’t get enough fresh air, and we don’t get enough exercise (unless we make it a priority). There’s also this loss of personal relationships with people. We have forgotten how to communicate one with another in a way that shows manners. We can go years without actually talking to someone –we just email or message or text. Service is something people have to brag about rather than just doing because it’s normal.

    I really think all of those things contribute to how our minds our deteriorating: diet, exercise, service, fresh air, sunshine, thinking of others before ourselves… Some may disagree, but what I know of my own mental illness is that if I do all of those things FIRST, my medication dosage is much, much lower. And I don’t find it coincidental at all.

  2. Paul says:

    As we become more aware of diseases of the brain, we will identify more and more of them. So even if there is not more incidence of mental disorders, there will be more reported.

    The New Testament has examples of mental illness (some of those cast-out devils could also be brain diseases).

    Cheryl raises an interesting point about food additives. I’ve not studied it myself, but I one of my sons who struggles with severe depression also reports his diet has a significant impact on his ability to manage his disease.

    To the extent our brain illnesses are contributed to by outside stressors, there certainly are many of those. And often we are hard wired to respond to stresses in ways that are not helpful in today’s world. For instance, the instinctual fight or flight response that may have been helpful when being chased by a wild animal is probably not helpful in a traffic jam or a confrontatioin with a teenage son or daughter. Yet if we never learn how to get beyond the instinctual response, the results can be damaging.

  3. MSKeller says:

    As I studied for my degree in psychology, I was required to look deeply at the history of mental disorders and their ‘cures’ over time. It is a long history of illness mostly misunderstood. It is new? Not at all. It is however changing as we learn more, diagnose more, and label more things that were just annoying habits, strange people, into illnesses.

    As a people – LDS being the audience we speak with and to mostly here – there are so many things that we are kept from if we obey the commandments. There are also many things we are susceptible to, as we mis-understand practices, principles and culture.

    I remember back in the 70’s when Barbara B. Smith warned LDS women about depression and trying to be/do too much. Many of our ailments begin with misinformation and misunderstandings and miscommunication. Many others come from our changing environment, things that we thought were helping, and now are finding out are mostly harming us, and some genetic mutations, heredity chains and a plethora of other causes.

    The more we know, the wider and wider the circle of things we realize we don’t know, which makes it appear as if there are more bad things. There probably aren’t, it is just that we are more able to define them, and hopefully begin to understand them.

  4. readermom says:

    I have thought about this a lot. In addition to all the changes in food and interpersonal relations, we have more input. Once you could spend your entire day in silence. No radio, no TV. Everyone around was most likely very similar, with the same background, ideas and beliefs. You didn’t have to decide every 30 seconds the value of what was coming into your head from outside.
    Now we listen/watch/read constantly. Every few minutes we make a value decision. Our most basics beliefs are questioned all the time. How we parent, how we eat, what we wear, how we speak, do we sit too much, smile enough? Everything is up for grabs.
    I have read studies that suggest we only have so much mental “will” available in a day. We exhaust our mental energies just existing in our current society.
    The stressors of earlier years were just as difficult, but were also mostly physical. We don’t have to walk across the plains, but finding a bit of silence is incredibly difficult.

  5. jendoop says:

    Amen to all of your comments!

    Recently my depression took a turn for the worse, I was also diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency. After that diagnosis I thought about what my depression had led me to do – I had been inside, with the blinds closed, eating bad food just to get through the day. I realized that I was doing myself no favors by living my days like that.

    I’ve started opening the blinds every morning, eating as many veggies as I can in the day and making sure I go out to lunch with a friend once a week. This is all to supplement therapy and medication (anti depressants and vitamin D). I’m improving after all of these changes.

    I hope I can keep it going because I also feel what readermom is talking about – the constant barrage. It is hard to stay strong when the days are so full and I dream about having a quiet place somewhere warm to be still and listen to the birds, water, and wind. This winter has been a hard one.

    Another factor I see is our focus on trying to achieve an ideal of normalcy. I think in the Bible we see examples of people with some pretty strange behaviors that could have been due to mental illness, as Paul pointed out, but that was just part of society then. Not that those people were always treated well, but those people who were different were everywhere. Where as now we’re all trying to give a certain air, so that we can be accepted, promoted, praised, called.

    I think it goes back to when society wanted to help the mentally ill so they put them in sanatoriums. This removed the mentally ill from society in a very unnatural way. The deinstitutionalization in the 80’s brought the mentally ill back into our communities and we, and the government, haven’t switched back to communities taking care of the mentally ill. We see them as wrong, uncomfortable, out of the norm and we just don’t want to deal with it. Which is mentally unhealthy in and of itself. Maybe our entire American culture, and LDS culture, has a giant case of denial. Maybe these high statistics are the result of that denial?

    What if we had mental and emotional education classes in schools like we have physical education classes? This would go a long way towards eliminating some of those bad practices of the past that Marsha talked about.

    • MSKeller says:

      “I’m improving after all of these changes. ” – That is the crux of it Jen. The person has to want to change, or nothing will. They have to be willing to make some changes, even tiny ones. Society as well.

      Schools need to teach things like communication skills; Anger management; Goal setting and financial preparedness. Math, reading and social studies just won’t cut it anymore. We have an unprepared society facing a world that is changing exponentially.

      • Liz C says:

        I’m uncomfortable leaving such important matters in the hands of “society” alone… because that’s led to atrocity too often in the past. Groupthink is not always a good thing. I think *families* need to teach communication skills, anger management, goal setting, financial skills, emotional health, physical motivation… if I go back to the scriptures, I don’t see our spiritual heritage being outsourced to schools or earthly government. We’re in a crisis point, and need societal-wide change, definitely, but thinking we can continue on without making the main portal for all of this The Home strikes me as something potentially very negative. A government will never be able to be more responsive than a family working through inspiration (with great help from compassionate specialists, as well.)

        • MSKeller says:

          Definitely that. Though some don’t have a ‘home’ to speak of. Those are the most at risk, and something is better than nothing.

          • jendoop says:

            Exactly my point. We in the church may see ways to spread mentally healthy ways of living, but what of those who don’t? If we are interested in helping all, even those who don’t accept our religion, schools are the best way to do that. The children who are most in need (in dysfunctional families) aren’t likely to have enough functioning in the family to teach them.

    • Paul says:

      I’m not sure the mentally ill were placed in santoriums to help the mentally ill.

      I’m not sure we’ve every known how to deal with people who are different — and that goes for families and society at large. We now are operating in the US under a community mental health model, but we still do not fully fund it so resources are not evenly available to consumers who need them the most.

      I agree that there needs to be a mental health component of the regular health instruction taught in schools (I believe there is some already).

      Liz, you worry that we shouldn’t leave this all to society. I agree in part, but since society is really nothing more than the collection of our families, then we are taking that on in our families. Trouble is if families are ill-equipped to deal with mental illness, then they may not know what to do, either.

      Just like cancer or kidney disease, mental illness is not something we can make go away by praying more or being nicer.

      Certainly families that function well can and do teach the skills you mention, but generally only if the parents have learned them, too.

      • Becca says:

        “mental illness is not something we can make go away by praying more or being nicer.”

        And that is a really big misconception in the Church, I think. Latter-day Saints (myself included) sometimes fall into the trap of “If I pray enough and have enough faith this trial will be taken from me.”

        I think we are seeing a good thing come out of the LGBT members of the Church who are saying “This is the way I was born, and God isn’t going to take it away from me.” We could all use a good dose of that knowledge – that God does not always remove the trial, but rather helps us to endure it.

        Which is all we are asked to do – endure to the end.

        • Paul says:

          I agree, Becca; sometimes we are to endure.

          In my work in the church’s Addiction Recovery Program, I observe that some who are new to meetings hope that participating will remove the disease of addiction from their lives. In fact, I think in some cases, God may do just that. But not always.

          For most addicts, the disease of addiction lingers just like kidney disease or heart disease, and must be managed. Paul wrote that despite his pleadings, God never removed his thorn in the flesh.

          I’m encouraged by Elder Maxwell’s learning when he found he had leukemia. He said near the end of his biography that the Lord taught him that he had leukemia so he could teach with more authenticity. Over time, the struggles we face in this life give us greater capacity to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, even if we are not through our struggles yet.

  6. Bonnie says:

    I don’t think mental illness is more prevalent; I think the standards of expectation of mental and emotional well-being have been raised. That’s a good thing. We ascribe many fewer things to character and choice or fate than we once did, as well. I also am careful, as is Cheryl, to be aware of individual reactions to substances others consider common. Members of my extended family have had reactions to immunizations that others did not; some have food allergies that others do not; and I personally have almost zero tolerance metabolically for two very common substances: caffeine and MSG. Because of the wide variety of experiences I’ve seen in my children, extended family, and friends, I’m very mindful of what we put in our bodies. And I have very strong feelings about holistic medicine and treating the whole person when one aspect is out of balance. Eastern societies have made great strides into mind-body medicine, and I tend to favor ayurveda. I pursued a similar natural and individualistic path that one of the writers who will publish an essay during this series did, although my work with bipolar disorder has led me to work with instead of trying to wholly overcome my situation in life. For me, balance looks a little different than it does for others, because I don’t want to let go of the strengths my weakness gives me. So it was through meditation and affirmation that I learned to manage my disorder, after I had established a balance that was peculiar to me. In watching and working with my children, I’ve found this to be helpful.

    For instance, 4 of 6 of my children struggle with related learning disabilities. My oldest son has a profound raw auditory processing disorder that complicates his ability to translate thought from speech/writing and reading/speech back to ideas. He compensated by becoming a memorizer, and can quote entire conversations back long after they’ve occurred. He has been able to keep that skill even while moderately increasing his processing time back and forth between ideas and words. He has hit the 80/20 point, where he can function in 80% of the conversations he has with great ease, and it isn’t worth the mammoth effort to perfect the other 20% which would impinge on the development of his coping skill. His particular balance is different from someone else’s, and that’s the ideal for him.

    Managing our own particular life, which for me requires a zero-tolerance policy for negative thought patterns and healthy doses of laughter with periods of alone time for rebalance, is the key to maximizing the gifts we are intended to develop, gifts that may, paradoxically, have come through our disorders.

    • MSKeller says:

      Have to just say. . . I love this: “Managing our own particular life, which for me requires a zero-tolerance policy for negative thought patterns and healthy doses of laughter with periods of alone time for rebalance, is the key to maximizing the gifts we are intended to develop, gifts that may, paradoxically, have come through our disorders.”

      Indeed. INdeed.

  7. E says:

    I do not believe mental illnesses are more common now than in other times. Our bodies are mortal, including our brains. Everyone gets sick, and everyone dies. We are fortunate to live longer, healthier lives than our ancestors, but we still will all get sick, generally many times, and at some point probably develop chronic conditions before we die. It’s because we are mortal. There are things we can do to positively affect our own health, but we do not have as much control as most of us seem to think.

  8. Plague is an interesting word. Destructive, epidemic, cataclysmic. As compared to former-days? Not like a virus, or bacteria, or locusts (in a sense). Certainly a matter of definition in terms of diagnosis and scientific inquiry and a growing cultural awareness of what constitutes the margin between being functional and non-functional, abled or disabled.

    We often think of plagues relative to cause and effect, vv, rats, mites, ticks, fleas, or a failure to scrub and wash our hands. There are those who see plagues as punishment from God as a result of evil and sin. But plague in the religious context is problematic. Ignorance can cause a plague and ignorance can lead to incorrect conclusions and superstitious mindsets. What we know is that mental illness is prevalent with a variety of causes, some unknown; and we know that some cultures marginalize, or have marginalized, the mentally ill.

    I think it’s a good idea to remember that our brain is a perceptive synthesizer. Sometimes that “lens” is distorted, sometimes severely.

    I might think, “I’m okay, but I’m not sure about you.” When in fact, I’m not okay and you are okay. Or you’er not, and I’m not, and what I think is a reasonable conclusion has no basis.

    As a society, I think we’re ever so slowly awakening to a vast need for love and compassion along with a serious need to structure our systems of health care and support.

    • MSKeller says:

      “As a society, I think we’re ever so slowly awakening to a vast need for love and compassion along with a serious need to structure our systems of health care and support.” – Have to agree with that Richard. We need some changes, and the distortion often is in policy as well as practices.

  9. Nancy Hragyil says:

    I am a pretty straight forward person, so I have had some thoughts on this particular topic, simply because I have struggled with Mental Illness ever since I was a teenager and for the fact that I have had several instances especially in the church culture, where one person or another has told me ‘that I must not have been keeping the commandments or that I wasn’t praying with real intent or reading my scriptures.” Like I said I have been dealing with this a long time and have heard almost all of it.
    The stigma that goes along with “mental illness” I think stems from back in the day where people were put into asylums because I think society was scared of them and they truly didn’t understand the mind, as we do today. We often forget that our brain is an organ, although more sophisticated than any other part of our body, it can still get sick or not work properly. If one of our friends had cancer , a broken bone or any ailment, would we say to them “oh, you need to just pray harder or if you eat a healthy diet and think positive thoughts-then you will be cured.” To even hint that Diet or Exercise can cure, or be a replacement for ‘Western Medicine’ or lower medication dosages is in fact irresponsible and uncompassionate. Or to say that our ailments stem from lack of information or trying to do too much falls into that same category. Now all of those things can be great factors, I myself am very active, I eat pretty healthy and I try and not let negative thinking into my mind but because I have a mental illness it is only part of the plan. That is why Heavenly Father has given us access to medications because often times a person can do all of these things and still not have a whole mind. All of us are so different, which includes our minds, how can we say that everyone should do this or that when it might not work for them. I know that I have been told that on several occasions and when it didn’t happen for me, I thought that there was something wrong with me, that maybe Heavenly Father didn’t love me as much. What we need to say is “this is the miracle that took place in my life and you need to pray about is right for you.” I don’t know why I was given this particular task or block in my life( at times it is a stumbling block and others it is a stepping stone.) but I have been. But as long as I continue on my meds & do those things that have helped me in my mental health journey, then I have no right to tell people that they would be cured or have to take less meds if they do what I do. Because that is just not true!!
    As far as teaching mental health in our schools – I do know that, at least where I live, they do teach about mental health-do they spend weeks and weeks on it.. no. But for educators it is a balancing act of how much Math or English to teach over health concerns or other subjects. It is the thinking of what is going to best prepare the students to graduate and go out and strengthen society. I personally wasn’t taught very much about mental illness in school, I had to learn that by myself :S but despite that I am still a productive and , I think, a good person in society.
    Now, in my family, if I want my children to know more about something, then I will teach them myself. But some of your are right, some children do not have ‘homes’ or parents that can do this. Which is why it is so important to share accurate information with those around you, you never know the impact it may have – good or bad.

    • Bonnie says:

      It’s so wonderful that you have had access to medications and therapies that have made a difference to you. It’s also a horrible situation that people have challenged your spirituality or made untrue observations about your level of health or effort. The experience that people have is very widely varied. The reality is, however, that diet and exercise, for individuals for whom that is their primary cause, can cure. We have to learn to be good consumers of health services. Just because something doesn’t work well for us doesn’t mean nobody else should ever hear of it, and their stories should not be labeled irresponsible or lacking compassion. Many times when we are threatened we insist that nothing be out there that could offend us. The world does not make that guarantee; we are simply benefited if we learn to say, “that doesn’t apply to me, but I’m glad it works for someone.”

    • Michelle says:

      y. “If one of our friends had cancer , a broken bone or any ailment, would we say to them “oh, you need to just pray harder or if you eat a healthy diet and think positive thoughts-then you will be cured.”

      Actually, I’ve gotten that a lot with my chronic physical illness. Fwiw.

      I think it’s kind of human nature — part of the natural man — to want to have quick, easy fixes.

      • Michelle says:

        my point here is that I think there is often in our mortalness an illusion of control. As Bonnie points out, sometimes there can be a cause/effect relationship between, say, diet and illness. A simple example could be those with Celiac disease spwho stop eating wheat products.

        Bit my point is that I think we as mortals are too often prone to focusing on short-term solutions rather than the process of learning from and leaning into struggle. I think our generation has more struggle with that because we are bombarded constantly by alleged solutions. Sometoimes, they really can be helpful, but sometimes they can be distractions…because sometimes a cure is not in the cards,in a ‘not my will but Thine’ kind of a way.

      • Jendoop says:

        I think Nancy concedes that when she says that at times her illness is a stumbling block or alternately, a stepping stone. We do have to be careful how we approach helping one another, often the compassion in the effort to reach out means most. I think behind every suggestion of what could help us made by others is a hidden view of that person’s ideas about how the world should work.

        Often if a person makes a comment that prayer and fasting will “cure” mental illness it is because they have a difficult time reconciling a loving God with a God that allows his children to struggle through great trials. While at the same time a person hearing that response may wonder the same thing and concludes, in the pain and darkness of their illness, that God must not love them and/or they must be so flawed and sinful that even though they make all faithful efforts God doesn’t heal them.

        When we acknowledge that God has a multitude of ways of helping us carry our burdens – therapy, active faith, medication, healthy habits, positive self talk, therapy, etc. – we are closer to being a part of the solution IF we always concede that we don’t receive revelation for anyone outside our stewardship and that as much as we want what worked for us to work for someone else there are no guarantees.

        That all said, I believe that recommending a specific course of treatment should always carry a disclaimer that individuals should counsel with their doctor before trying anything like beginning or ending medication, major diet changes, starting an exercise regime, or deciding to try to work it out through prayer and fasting. These are serious issues with serious implications and consequences.

        In the end discussing treatment options can be compared to discussing parenting techniques – no one wants to be challenged when they are doing their best. Often it’s best to keep specific advise to ourselves. A, “What can I do to help?” goes much farther than a jar of miracle powder that your uncle sold you 😉

  10. OCD Blogger says:

    Mental Health issues have always been around. I think that our present day culture tends to lead to problems. The fact that mental health issues are such a taboo would indicate a throwback to former days where it would be likely that issues would not be spoken of.

  11. Well, we are in the latter-days right? In the yogic prophecies, they also talk about a latter-days (they call it the Aquarian Age) and one of the prophecies is that in the Aquarian age 50% of people will die, 90% of those left will go crazy. The remaining will have to help everyone else and attempt to be light house and elevate them. If anyone here hasn’t looking into Kundalini Yoga as form of treatment, you should check it out. It has completely resolved many advanced psychiatric disorders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *