Why Sister Aburto has spoken about mental health in general conference and what she hopes we learn from her messages

A similar theme can be found in the three general conference messages Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto has given since being sustained as second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency: “We need each other.”

In her April 2018 general conference talk “With One Accord,” she said, “Girls and boys, young women and young men, sisters and brothers, we are on this journey together. In order to reach our sublime destiny, we need each other, and we need to be unified.”

Eighteen months later, in October 2019, Sister Aburto addressed the topic of mental health in light of this plea from a beloved hymn: “Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!” She vulnerably spoke of her father’s suicide and her daughter’s bout of depression. 

“When we open up about our emotional challenges, admitting we are not perfect, we give others permission to share their struggles,” she said. “Together we realize there is hope and we do not have to suffer alone.”

Most recently, in the April 2021 general conference, Sister Aburto shared the story of losing her brother during a devastating earthquake and testified that through the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “broken hearts can be healed, anguish can become peace and distress can become hope.”

Sister Aburto recently joined the Church News podcast to talk about what she has learned about mental health and the importance of human connection from personal experience and the scriptures. The podcast episode will be released tomorrow, June 29.

Episode 37: Sister Aburto on mental, emotional health and the power of turning to the Savior for comfort

Of her decision to address these topics in her general conference talks, she told the Church News, “I would like to testify that, in reality, those messages come from the Lord. ….

“My greatest desire is to testify that there is hope. There is hope in the Savior. There is hope in His promises. There is hope in His Atonement and His ability to guide us and to give us healing and peace and hope in this life.”

Maria Tedjamulia, left, takes a photograph with Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, after members of the Relief Society general presidency spoke at the BYU Women’s Conference in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Friday, May 5, 2017.
Maria Tedjamulia, left, takes a photograph with Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, after members of the Relief Society general presidency spoke at the BYU Women’s Conference in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, on Friday, May 5, 2017. Credit: Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Mental health problems can affect anybody, anywhere, Sister Aburto said. “If we feel sad, if we feel that we cannot control our emotions, if we sometimes feel that we cannot go on, we should not be ashamed of that. We just need to realize that we have a problem, and to ask for help. First to our Heavenly Father, also to our Savior, and to other people.” She underscored the importance of seeking professional help.

When her father died by suicide about 20 years ago, “I kind of shut down about it in a way that I didn’t really talk much about it,” she admitted. “As my children were growing up, as they were born, I honestly kind of chose not to talk about it. I didn’t tell them the details on how he had died over the years.”

Then, as she prepared for her October 2019 conference talk, she realized, “I cannot go and tell other people to open up and be vulnerable, to help each other, to avoid this kind of problem, if I’m not willing to talk to my family.”

A few months before that general conference, she sat down with her children and told them for the first time how her father had died. 

“It was such a relieving thing to do because, as you can imagine, we cried a lot, we mourned together,” she recalled. “They gave me comfort. They grieved with me. And for me, it was such a beautiful experience to be able to finally tell them and to finally cry with them.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to not try to hide our feelings, especially to the people that love us. … Part of that healing process involves other people, and by other people knowing what we are going through, then they will be able to help us. And together, we can turn to the Savior, and He can provide that healing that we need through His Atonement, through His power, through His love.”

Read what Church leaders have taught about mental health

Sister Aburto encouraged podcast listeners to refrain from judging those who struggle with mental health. “That’s one of the problems that surrounds mental health, I feel, that there is so much skepticism,” she said. 

Sometimes it may be difficult for someone to acknowledge or understand what others are going through if they have not experienced their own mental health struggles. “But I think that if we stop and truly listen to them, to truly understand what they’re going through, and to fill our hearts with empathy, then we will realize that they are real issues,” she said.

Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, comforts a volcano survivor in Escuintla, Guatemala, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018.
Sister Reyna Isabel Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, comforts a volcano survivor in Escuintla, Guatemala, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

By being sensitive and compassionate and validating the pain of others, “we learn that these problems are real and that each of us can actually do something about it.”

Sister Aburto said she used to feel she was the only one going through something difficult in her past. “But as we open up to each other, as we share our struggles with others, we realize that we are not alone. The things that we go through can give us that strength and that compassion and that empathy that will allow us to help each other in our journey.”

She testified: “I know that we have a Savior and Redeemer, who has all the power and all the desire and all the love, to help us every time we reach for Him. He has already suffered everything. He understands us. He knows what we are going through. He is always willing to listen to us and to help us in our struggles. … 

“Because of that we can receive His strength, we can receive His power, and He can heal us. He has done it to me and I have seen this happening in the lives of so many people around me.”