For years I had looked at depression clinically, like a scientist examining a foreign virus under a microscope. I had relatives and friends who had experienced depression – some had received treatment in mental hospitals, others who had avoided treatment and even others who had suffered such pain for a prolonged period of time that they took their own lives.
Despite my familiarity with these people, I couldn’t understand what they were experiencing. I had a lot of theories about the reasons behind depression, but little real understanding and little desire to understand more.
Then, some years ago, I suffered some substantial setbacks which, at the time, I thought were insurmountable. I couldn’t imagine a way forward. I felt as though I had been abandoned by my colleagues, my friends, family and even abandoned by God. I sunk into a depression that lasted several years. Some days it was so hard to get out of bed, even with my wife and family surrounding me and selflessly supporting me. I believed that no one could understand what I was going through.
One day, when I was feeling particularly full of despair, I came across a video of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talking about his own struggle with depression. He addressed his talk to those suffering from mental illness or emotional disorder and said “I once terrifyingly saw it in myself. At one point in our married life when financial fears collided with staggering fatigue, I took a psychic blow that was as unanticipated as it was real. With the grace of God and the love of my family, I kept functioning and kept working, but even after all these years I continue to feel a deep sympathy for others more chronically or more deeply afflicted with such gloom than I was.”
Elder Holland’s talk changed my perspective.
Before encountering this talk, I had believed that people who suffered depression were suffering merely because of their own poor choices; that God would not allow someone to be depressed unless they were in some way sinful. For the first time, I considered that depression could also happen to someone who was living a good life.
I don’t deny that many who “sow the wind…reap the whirlwind,” but at the time I watched this video, I wasn’t living a particularly profligate or degenerate life and I was still depressed. I had challenges in my life, but I didn’t think that economic or career stressors should be the cause of serious mental illness.
Another thing which impressed me about Elder Holland’s talk was that he encouraged people suffering from debilitating clinical depression to seek out professional help rather than just “squar[ing] [your] shoulders and think[ing] more positively.” He said, “seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values…. If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.”
Elder Holland gave me the courage to seek out treatment. Some people in my orbit had been telling me that all I needed to do is practice the power of positive thinking, but Elder Holland made me realize that I wasn’t a bad person to seek out counseling.
It helped me to speak to someone with professional training about my fears and concerns and feel like they cared enough to listen and offer counsel and offer sound advice. I didn’t follow all the recommendations I was given, but it helped to have access to the wealth of information that they had at their disposal and incorporate the advice that I found useful into my life.
More than three years have passed since my last serious depressive episode, but I continue to benefit from what I learned in counseling.
Depression was a serious issue for me, as it is for so many others and I am so glad that I was able to seek out the proper treatment so that I could get back to leading a fulfilling, happy, and productive life without a constant cloud overhead.
I am so grateful that Elder Holland was willing to be vulnerable enough to share his experience with depression in that video, and earlier in General Conference. His advice really changed my life and made me a better man.
Here is the link to the video with words from Elder Holland > Like a Broken Vessel