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Sunday, February 3, 2013

LDS culture and mental health

I found an excellent article combining two of my favorite topics: Mormons and mental health.

For newer readers, you must first understand that doctrine in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saings, the Church, and Mormon culture can best be understood separately. The doctrine is the gospel of Jesus Christ and it never changes because it is eternal truth. The Church teaches the gospel and sometimes changes policies to best meet that objective, and it is not perfect because it is led by human beings. Mormon culture, on the other hand, is a byproduct of a concentration of people living and working together and does not necessarily have much to do with either the gospel or the Church. It is most pronounced in areas with large LDS populations.

For example, take these findings about LDS women and depression as layed out in the article:
In her findings, Doty identified five major factors that she said led to depression among the study's participants — genetics, history of abuse, family relationships, feeling judged by others and toxic perfectionism.
Doty said the church's teachings on striving for perfection led to misinterpretations and contributed to feelings of inadequacy.
"In the (Mormon and Utah) culture, people have just taken it too far," she said during the 2013 Mental Health Symposium at UVU's Sorensen Student Center. "They think they can't make a mistake and so they become hyper-competitive and anxious. If you think you can make no mistake, you're setting yourself up for failure."
"I put pressure on myself to be that perfect Mormon," said Lynette, an LDS woman interviewed for the study who declined to be identified by her full name. "If I'm teaching a class, I have to do it perfectly. (I was set on) being a perfect homemaker, always having the dishes done and the laundry done. … That's not real life though."  
Yes, perfectionism is a part of LDS culture, and is especially pronounced in Utah. I went to BYU, where I experienced the largest culture shock of my life to date, even though I was and am LDS! The completely sad thing is that the gospel teaches us not to judge each other but to love and accept each other, so this cultural tendency to want to seem perfect stems from fear of judgement and is directly contrary to the gospel.

As in other areas of mental health, I agree with the following statement by the study's author.
Doty said the biggest obstacle in dealing with depression is an unwillingness to openly talk about it.
"We need to talk about it," she said. "We need to bring it out of the shadows." 

Yup. We need to erase the stigma against talking about mental health issues. And, Mormons should start realizing that the gospel isn't the Church isn't the culture.

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