Why it’s OK to have a mental health struggle and what to do when faced with one, according to a Latter-day Saint psychologist

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When Dr. David T. Morgan, licensed psychologist, author and motivational speaker, recommends that an individual incorporate a spiritual “strategy” when addressing a mental health issue, he sometimes gets “a little bit of pushback.”

“They’ll say, ‘Well, you can’t just pray away depression.’ And I say: ‘You’re right, but why wouldn’t you pray about it anyway?’” he said.

“There’s never usually just one thing that we can pinpoint and say, ‘Oh, this is the reason this person has anxiety,’“ he explained. “There are biological issues and genetic issues and environmental issues and cognitive issues and spiritual issues, all these things combined… Why wouldn’t you ask Heavenly Father for help, in addition to meeting with your psychiatrist, and meeting with your counselor, and doing the cognitive work to address the incorrect perceptions that are associated with depression, and getting exercise and improving your diet?”

A strong relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ can have implications for “all sorts of mental health issues,” Morgan said. “In terms of our understanding of ourselves, and our identity, and our purpose, and all the things that can help us prevail against trials.”

Morgan believes that if someone is praying for relief from a mental health struggle, what will likely come to their mind is a prompting to take action, such as talking to someone or starting a medication. “The Holy Ghost can direct us,” he said. “Heavenly Father is going to use the opportunities and the technologies that He’s blessed us with already to help us through this. He’ll just give you a personalized direction on how to do it.”

“A good first step to take when suffering with a mental health issue is to find someone else to talk to,” Morgan said. “We can’t do this alone, and we were never designed to do this alone. I think just by our very natures, we’re designed to be dependent upon other people and dependent upon the Lord, and so talk with someone first, whoever that is.”

It’s important to remember that comparing one’s struggles to the struggles of another is usually unproductive. “Just because someone else is suffering more, or someone else is suffering less, doesn’t change the nature of our suffering,” he explained. “Our lives are these individual experiences, and this cross comparison doesn’t do us any good on one side or the other…. We need to give ourselves permission and say it’s OK to have bad days, it’s OK to have mental health issues, but that’s not the end of it. That’s the beginning of it.”

Church News podcast episode 73: Incorporating spiritual strategies to forge emotional resilience, with David T. Morgan

An aspect of Latter-day Saint culture that Morgan has observed is the belief that “if we keep the commandments and do everything right, that we will have this kind of carefree, burden-less life,” and yet, “every major character that’s mentioned in scripture, that’s righteous, had a burden to bear, and a significant burden,” he said. “Jesus Christ being the primary example of that. Never sinned once and yet carried the greatest burden of all.”

One of the greatest blessings of going through trials, according to Morgan, is how it leads to the ability to empathize with and assist others who are going through a similar challenge.

“The scriptures talk about becoming saviors on Mount Zion,” he said. “We have a part in that redemptive process, in being able to help people through their struggles, just like He helps us through our struggles, and I think that is one of the greatest benefits of these trials.”

Emotional resilience, the ability to withstand and bounce back from trials, is an essential tool for everyone since difficulties are part of everyday life. “We need to learn how to cope with it, and then how to become stronger as a result of it,” Morgan said. The purpose of trials, he believes, is to lead to becoming more like the Savior. “That’s where that partnership between our efforts and the Savior’s efforts, with the Savior’s grace, His enabling power, the two of those work together in order to move us to places in higher spheres and become more like Him.”

Helping others to manage mental health issues with a gospel perspective has taught Morgan that there is no difficulty that happens outside of the awareness of Heavenly Father. “He is absolutely 100% riveted on our experience, watches us every day and wants to counsel us through the difficulties,” he said. “There were times in the past where I thought, ‘Well, maybe some of this is just kind of random, and He checks in periodically.’ I know that that’s not right. He knows us, and He watches us all the time with love and concern.”

“I’m just so thankful for Jesus Christ… He knows everything we’re going through… and He knows how to help us out of it,” Morgan said. “With all the tools that we have available, and I’m suggesting that we use everything that is suitable for our condition, but please, please, please don’t forget to utilize your relationship with the Savior to improve that and to ask Him for help, and then to follow what He says.”

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