Sunday, October 13, 2013

Prophetic Depression

I was moved by this reader's post.  He is an employee of my Church who battles depression, feeling the Spirit, and having faith.  He discusses how Elder Holland's talk on depression was a personal revelation to him during the midst of a suicidal episode.  In reading it, I also discovered this bishop's post about his battle with anxiety and finding the help he needed through LDS Family Serivces.

As was pointed out by other blog readers and then by Elder Holland, George Albert Smith struggled with depression (read of it here at page 20).  Elder Holland also mentioned Alma the Younger.

I have believed for a long time that other Book of Mormon prophets have struggled with depression if not other mental illnesses, too.

Consider Nephi (the first one).  After he had seen the destruction of his people in vision, he writes that "I considered that mine afflictions were great above all." (1 Ne. 15:5)  This sounds like depression (even if temporary) to me - he is overwhelmed with his pain, which he thinks is the worst pain possible.  He is left without strength.

Interestingly, Nephi doesn't just dust himself off and move on with life.   No, the strength to continue on in the faith is given to him.  He says little about the process - whether he prayed for strength or not - merely, that he "received strength," and then went back to harraging his brothers (anyone else think Nephi suffers from a PR problem?).   Clearly, however, it is a passive process (something I also discuss in my book).

It may be that Nephi's battle with depression was more than episodic, for later, in 2 Nephi 4, he soliloquises (is that a word?) about how his "heart sorroweth," his "soul grieveth," and lingers "in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken."  He also finds himself wretched.

Perhaps mental illness ran in the family.  I mentioned earlier that my sister, who passed away in 2003, suffered from manic depression.  In my growing up years, I saw some of her in the prophet Jacob.  He waxes poetic in his address on chastity, fearing the tender and chaste feelings of his female hearers will "have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds," enlarging their wounds when he would have consoled and healed them. (Jacob 2:7-8)  Keen sensitivity coupled with high intellect.

His quotation from memory of Zenos' olive tree allegory, the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon (not significant in and of itself as the original book did not have chapters, but represents the length of the thought) seemed to be on par with someone in a manic state, who is often capable of tremendous feats.

His final verses are some of my favorite in all scripture for their poetry, "the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days."  (Jacob 7:26) Though poetic, they are sad.  Jacob can see only the negative. Here there is no "living after the manner of happiness," only doom and gloom.

Although I could point out several more examples, I think the best and most uncontroversial bout of situation-induced prophetic depression was Moroni's.  His father and comrades had been killed, too, a mother, probable siblings and possibly a wife, even children: "I remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people.  But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father.  And whether they will slay me, I know not."  (Mormon 8:3)  Would someone please get him a violin? (Kidding, kidding)

At this point, Moroni is too down to consider any means to accomplish that which he had been commanded--to write the destruction of his people.  He cannot comprehend anything beyond his immediate suffering: "behold, I would write it also if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone.  My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go." (Mormon 8:5)

What happens thereafter to Moroni is a microcosm of what the Atonement (and today, medication, exercise and the like - see my first post on Depression and the Spirit) can do for a person hit by what Elder Holland calls a "psychic blow."

Moroni unfortunately does not record what he experienced, or how, but we learn later that he sees Christ, dedicated at least one temple site in North America, and fulfills the prophecy in Revelations about the angel restoring the gospel in the last dispensation by revealing to Joseph Smith where the golden plates he had buried lay hidden.

Despite what was likely ongoing depression - who wouldn't when constantly reminded of all you had lost? - Moroni--and Jacob and Nephi and Alma and George Albert Smith and Elder Holland and all others called to serve the Lord in their weakness, including deep depression- were used by the Lord to bless others.  Not in spite of their depression and mental anguish, but possibly because of it.  Because it challenged them to dig deeper and pray longer and search harder for the light that would end their darkness.

I pay tribute to all--prophets and every worthy struggler--who deal with such darkness.  Thank you for helping the rest of us see light through your shadows.


  1. Great post Lorianne. I think we sometimes misjudge the depths which must be sounded at a personal level before something profound is made possible. And we have no way to relate to it if we have not experienced it ourselves. Perhaps this is why art exists. There are some experiences which are ineffable, not that we haven't tried to explained our experience, it's just that we can't - the words don't exist. We can't all be artists, or poets, or musicians, but their works can perhaps fill in the blanks in our collective conversation that otherwise will remain by necessity given the ephemeral, limited nature of textual, semiotic conveyence. From the depths, our words are lost in the echo chambers of our souls. -Brad Heitmann

  2. This is beautiful, Lorianne! Excellent scriptural references to depression that I have never thought of that way before. It is so critical for LDS members to understand that clinical depression and other mental illnesses or emotional/behavioral disorders are NOT the result of sin, or our "fault," or in any way makes one unworthy to hold a calling in a ward or stake -- even a leadership position. It really holds people back from being able to serve when they feel they are not worthy, and other members judge them as such. I am grateful for Elder Holland's talk which reminded us all that these illnesses and feelings are part of mortality and are deserving of compassion, patience, and understanding.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I have never thought about my struggle in this way before. I'm not eloquent enough to tell you how much this meant to me.