However basic this may sound, if I could convince readers of one thing in this essay it would be this: Mental illness is real. I can't count the number of times when people have suggested, in essence, that I just "get over it." Or the number of times my wife has had to explain why I don't sit with the family in sacrament meeting and she gets doubting or disapproving looks. Mental illness is a real medical condition, and it's hard enough when people believe you; it's infinitely worse when they don't, or when they offer cures that obviously don't understand the problem. (No one gives a pneumonia patient a book about how to think happy thoughts in order to cure their pneumonia.)
Fortunately, church leadership seems to understand this much better than the layperson; I don't know if it's because they get training, or if they're in tune with the spirit, or simply have a lot of experience, but Ive been blessed to have bishops who have been completely understanding and whose counsel has been consistent with that of my doctors. Elder Alexander Morrison, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, published a book on the subject, "Valley of Sorrow: A Layman's Guide to Understanding Mental Illness," in which he states:
No small part of the suffering experienced by those with mental illness is the direct result of the ignorance, prejudice, and wrong-headed thinking of family members, friends, business associates, Church members and others. I firmly believe that as in other areas of life, conveying the truth is the key to banishing ignorance, stigma and prejudice that surround mental illness. Such truth will, I trust, encourage sufferers from mental disorders to seek appropriate and ecclesiastical and professional assistance, and help dispel their own debilitating fears, feelings of guilt, and self-doubt.
YES, YES, YES! Erase the stigma already! Sorry to beat a dead horse. Except that most people don't know it's dead, I think. I'll get off my soap box now and leave you with this man's conclusion because it's so beautiful.
And in all of these solutions, the real key is obvious: Love unconditionally; seek to understand; act with kindness. It's the solution to dealing with those with mental illness, but it's the very core of the gospel itself.