Latter-day Saint mental health professionals spoke about anxiety, depression, perfectionism and a variety of other challenges during the Gather Together Conference on Aug. 19.
The conference, held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the main event of the 2023 Utah Area Young Single Adult Conference, which featured different activities for young adults each weekend throughout the month of August.
The Gather Together Conference drew thousands of young single adults for spiritual messages, life coaching and socializing.
Following are summaries of what some mental health professionals said during the conference.
Succeeding with Anxiety and Depression
Becky Hinchcliff, a family therapist, taught a seminar called “Succeeding with Anxiety and Depression.” She offered tips for those struggling with self-worth or mental health.
Among other things, Hinchcliff talked about how one’s negative thoughts can often become so habitual that “we don’t even realize we’re having them.” They can become core beliefs held, many times coming in the form of an “I am” statement: “I am a failure. I am a monster. I am unreliable. I am unlovable. I am unworthy.”
These negativities, said Hinchcliff, can be replaced with healthier and more accurate ones, like “‘I am a child of God. I am worthy. I am loved. I am divine. I am enough.’ And when we’re able to recognize these thoughts and isolate them, we can challenge them in these moments.”
One day, Hinchcliff ran late to work, and an automatic thought came into her mind that she was a failure. “But because I know that that’s one of my automatic thoughts, I was able to kind of stop myself right in that moment and be like, ‘No I’m not; I’m just late.’ ... And it changed my day.”
Tyler Webster, a YSA from Provo, Utah, who attended Hinchcliff’s class, said talking more about mental health is important in today’s times.
When he dealt with anxiety and depression after serving a mission, Webster felt there were not many resources available to help. “I’m glad that they’ve kind of taken that to the forefront ... for [young single adults].”
Webster encouraged those who struggle with mental health to be open about it. “I was never open about it, and I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that I went through that I probably didn’t have to go through. You have friends and family. There’s a lot of resources now, which is awesome.”
Johnny Bowers, a counselor who specializes in PTSD, spoke about overcoming the problems created by perfectionism.
Perfectionism believes that worth is attached to accomplishments, Bowers said. Someone with perfectionist tendencies might believe that they’ll be worthy of love and respect only if they perform well at work or look a certain way.
“Our society breeds perfectionism,” Bowers said. “Social media and advertising will do wonders for your mental health in the wrong direction. ... There’s a lot of money to be made on people’s insecurities and issues.”
A healthy alternative to perfectionism is called “healthy striving,” Bowers said. Perfectionism asks, “How can I improve myself to others?” but healthy striving simply asks, “How can I improve?” It fosters creativity, self-development and living with integrity, he said.
“Healthy striving is grateful for all successes, however small ... and it knows when to slow down,” Bowers said.
Addressing life burdens
During a talk about managing various life circumstances, Rocky Top Mental Health counselor Sheldon Martin emphasized that both spiritual and medical help contribute to healing from trauma, mental illness and other challenges.
He used the analogy of a bowling lane with a gutter on other side. Bowling too close to either side results in missing the pins, but bowling down the center results in hitting the target.
Similarly, focusing only on spiritual solutions or only on medical solutions isn’t likely to give someone the relief they’re looking for, Martin said.
He talked about a family member who needed a heart transplant as a child. “Can you imagine if [we told her], ‘Go to the temple more’?”
That’s not to say his family didn’t fast and pray for her, Martin said. But he feels that “when we talk about mental and emotional health or addiction, we often just go to religious behaviors as the only answer. ...
“For a variety of life burdens that you may face, don’t oversimplify and don’t neglect that [we need] a combination of every resource available to us.”
Let’s Get Real podcast
During a live recording of the Let’s Get Real podcast, host Stephen Jones interviewed Sister Tamara W. Ruina, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency; Sister Reyna I. Aburto, former first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency; and Elder William K. Jackson, a General Authority Seventy and an executive director in the Church’s missionary department.
The topic was developing emotional resilience through Jesus Christ, and Jones asked each guest about their experiences with mental health challenges, either personally or in loved ones.
Sister Runia said that, as a mission leader in Sydney, Australia, she made sure her missionaries knew she’d struggled with depression and that they could call her any time of the day or night.
“It was a really sweet thing to be able to ... share with them what my experience was so that they didn’t feel so alone,” she said. “I think that’s when you realize that we’re all brothers and sisters having this experience at the same time.”
Elder Jackson said he’s been a practicing physician for 40 years. Within that time, he’s seen a rise in emotional health challenges. As the chair of Missionary Health Services, a lot of his job centers around emotional and mental health, he continued.
While no one would delay seeking treatment for diabetes or pneumonia, Elder Jackson said missionaries are sometimes “almost embarrassed” to seek help for mental health challenges.
But the “miraculous thing,” he said, is that eight out of 10 missionaries who seek mental health help stay in the mission field.
“[Jesus Christ] is the great physician, and as we do all we can with the resources available to us, including medical, psychiatric and counseling resources, then He can come in and heal,” Elder Jackson said.
Sister Aburto said while she hasn’t personally experienced mental health challenges, she lost her father to suicide. That experience, as well as hearing “so many stories” from around the world about mental health struggles, inspired her October 2019 general conference talk, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!”
“We need to be open, we need to be vulnerable [about our challenges],” Sister Aburto said. “Ask people how they’re feeling. Let’s not be afraid to express our emotions. Our emotions are part of us [and] we are divine beings.”