Episode 137: Commissioner of Family Services on importance of mental and emotional health
Sherilyn C. Stinson discusses how to identify problems, when and how to seek help and what Church leaders teach about the topic
Episode 137: Commissioner of Family Services on importance of mental and emotional health
Sherilyn C. Stinson discusses how to identify problems, when and how to seek help and what Church leaders teach about the topic
With Mental Health Awareness Month observed in May, this episode of the Church News podcast is dedicated to discussing mental health.
Sherilyn C. Stinson, the commissioner of Family Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a licensed clinical social worker, joins this episode of the podcast.
She talks about mental health and discusses how to identify problems, when and how to seek help and what Church leaders teach about this important topic.
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Sherilyn C. Stinson: I think that I have learned that our Father in Heaven has very tender feelings about His children who suffer from mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. We feel His guiding hand in Family Services, and we know this work is very, very important to Him. If an individual can discover the power of partnering with the Lord Jesus Christ, I have learned there is nothing that they cannot overcome. Change is absolutely possible, and that should give everyone hope. There is hope in the healing power of the Atonement and knowing that, in time, that all of these things that give us pain and distress will be taken from us. Some of them we have to keep because they temper us, and they help us to learn compassion. He knew what He was doing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This May, Mental Health Awareness Month, we dedicate this episode of the Church News podcast to discussing mental health with the commissioner of Family Services for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sherilyn C. Stinson is a licensed clinical social worker. She joins us today to talk about mental health and to discuss how to identify problems, when and how to seek help, and that we can all seek solace and healing through understanding God’s love and plan for us. Welcome, Sherilyn, to the Church News podcast.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: Thank you so much.
Sarah Jane Weaver: well, it’s so great to have you here to talk about this topic that impacts so many Latter-day Saint families. And so, maybe the best way to start is just to have you tell us what is mental health? Why should we care about it? And why is it important to leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: First, I want to thank you for this opportunity to address mental health. There is an unnecessary amount of shame attached to mental health, and it is unfounded. The more we bring attention to this and the more we normalize this, the more we’re able to assist those who are struggling. We should have no more shame around mental health disorders than any physical issue that we might wrestle with. So I appreciate that. So, mental health encompasses a wide range of mood and thinking processes and behaviors that impact our ability to function. Just as caring for our physical health is important, caring for our mental, emotional and behavioral health is necessary for us to enjoy a rich and meaningful life. Failure to care for our mental health can lead to disruptions in all aspects of our daily lives, including our relationships, our school, our careers and our spiritual lives.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So, keeping ourselves mentally healthy is something that is very important.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: It’s critical. It’s critical. With all of the attention to physical health, there ought to be an equal attention and sensitivity and maybe insight into our own mental health. What are we doing to keep ourselves mentally healthy?
Sarah Jane Weaver: So, what can we do?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: well, first of all, I think it’s very important to be tuned in to your own mental health, to be sensitive to “What am I feeling? What am I experiencing? Am I feeling a lot of dark days? A lot of discouragement? Is it persistent? Is it fleeting? Is it persistent?” Sometimes you can recognize it through physical symptoms as well. Fatigue is a big one. Even things like body aches, heart palpitations, but just being kind of tuned in to “How am I doing? How am I feeling?” We tend to just kind of power through, and just like if you had a physical injury, you need to stop and take care of that part of you.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And this is an important issue to sort of dig down on, because I think life is hard. I think all of us have hard days, and maybe some easy days. And there are days when I think, “Wow, this was a depressing day.” How do we know when that crosses a line, where now it’s not just the usual impact of day-to-day associations that collide with our lives to something that, where we might actually benefit from a little extra help or from talking to somebody?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: A key word is function. How well am I functioning? Is this interfering with my ability to do my daily responsibilities? Am I, can I get out of bed? Can I think clearly? Are there times when I, that the sadness is so overwhelming that I just can’t, I just can’t function? So, that’s the first key. I can’t do my stuff. Other things are maybe a loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable or meaningful to you. I remember an incident that I had with a granddaughter — she was about 8 — and they were living in New York City. And her father was finishing med school. And I went back to visit her, and I said, “How are you doing?” And she just looked at me with a sad face, and she said, “I just can’t feel any joy.” And I thought, “Bless her little heart.” But that’s a symptom: A feeling of joy just escapes me in my life. It doesn’t mean that I, you know, we’re not persistently happy all of the time. But if I just can’t grasp those moments of peace, I can’t feel the Spirit in my life, sometimes mental health is behind that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think in the Church, sometimes we connect the way we feel with our connection to God or how spiritual we are. And so, we sort of try to pray away our depression or our problems, or we actually think that maybe we have some responsibility for trying to read the scriptures more or attend the temple more. While all those things are great, can they actually be a detriment to us seeking help?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: They can be. A sense of “I’m not doing enough” or “I should be able to handle this” can be detriments. Again, that feeds the shame. Certainly, those sources are very significant: prayer and scriptures. And what comes to my mind is the Savior was a man of sorrows. And so, struggles and discouragement and sadness are part of our lives. And so, embracing that, that this is a normal state of being human. But if, again, we just can’t access those things that should bring us happiness, you know, all things being equal, then that’s an indication; this is maybe a little bit more than just, you know, a hard day.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually understands that this could be an issue and has provided these services for its members. Tell us what kind of services Family Services provides and how this organization can help members be mentally healthy.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: Thank you. So, Family Services actually was created, organized, by the leading Brethren of the Church, because there was a recognition by Church leaders that they needed professional counselors who were aligned with gospel principles. And so, our very first responsibility is to be a resource to leaders in consultation. And so, whether or not a member is actually referred to Family Services for counseling, we can help them walk through the issues that the members present and determine what is the best level of care. Sometimes they need a good ministering brother or sister. Sometimes they need medication. Sometimes they need maybe more intensive care for long-term chronic issues such as schizophrenia or OCD or severe trauma, these kinds of things.
Family Services, in our counseling, we use a brief therapy model, very solution-focused, focusing on helping a member to come to function. We don’t cure mental illness; we help them to manage it, because so many of these things just keep coming back. Many of us just live with periods of anxiety or periods of depressive mood. And so, gaining the tools to manage that without being completely undone by that is one of our goals. Our counseling sessions are focused on those issues that interfere with the ability to make and keep sacred covenants.
And so, rather than treating every mental health disorder, we focus on eternal marriages, family relationships, we focus on missionaries, addictions, in particular pornography addiction that is not treated well in the community, with our values. We treat single expectant parents or support them in their journey. And so, specifically, what we’re focusing on is those things that interfere with covenants and how we can build them. Another role that we have is that of content experts to the Church and providing expertise in articles and products, and again, consultation with the issues that are of concern to the Brethren.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk a little bit about self-care. What are some things that we should be thoughtful about when just making sure that we, ourselves, are emotionally healthy?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: I think self-care starts with being kind to yourself. Be realistic about what you can do and what you can’t do in a given season of your life. Be encouraging and forgiving to yourself. Celebrate the successes that only you can appreciate. There’s much talk and concern about emotional abuse. That which we inflict on ourselves is the most damaging; it is the ultimate betrayal. This is a critical piece as I do therapy is to help an individual become friends with themselves.
So often, they’re just disconnected. Issues that may have happened in their past — traumas, in particular — they tend to disconnect from that person that they were. But to be nurturing and kind and embracing to where they are, embracing and kind and patient with their mental health issues, whatever it is they’re wrestling with. Of anyone, we are, besides the Lord, we’re the only ones that really know the place that we’re coming from, the effort that it took to achieve our successes, even if it’s just getting out of bed on a given day. But I think that that’s critical.
Living a healthy lifestyle, that which we do for our physical health, is the same that will impact our emotional health. And so, eating healthy and exercising, getting enough rest. A great coach once said that fatigue makes cowards of us all, and that’s something that mothers know. Just being curious and interested in the world around you, exploring new interests, all of these kinds of things contribute to good mental health. I just want to mention, too, as I describe what sounds like poor mental health, it describes my experience as a young mother, I think that was just a normal phase of being exhausted and often discouraged. And so, there are those seasons. And so, it’s important that we recognize this; you’re doing the best that you can right now. You don’t have to do it all, and to just learn to be your own best friend.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And as we talk about these things that have very good practical advice, and had a conversation that oftentimes we were using clinical terms, are there some experiences or things that you can help illustrate some of these principles that you have spoken about today?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: I’ll give you just a couple of examples from my own life. So I, again, I was a young mother; young mothers and older mothers and those who provide service to others understand this feeling. But I went into a routine check with my OB-GYN, and after visiting for a while, he said, “You know what? You’re depressed.” And I said, “Well, well no. I’m a pioneer stuck; we don’t get depressed in our family.” And he insisted, he said, “No, no, you’re depressed.” And he helped me to understand, he said, “You have been under stress for a prolonged period of time.” And he said, “Your brain takes a hit.” He said, “Your brain chemistry simply doesn’t function well.” He said, “I want to put you on an antidepressant.” He said, “Think of it as putting your brain in a sling while it heals,” and I just kind of, “OK, but don’t tell my mother,” right?
And so I went on an antidepressant for just a few months, and what I experienced was pretty enlightening to me. I noticed I started to see color again. And I didn’t realize I had been living in the gray. It wasn’t a long time commitment, or it wasn’t a, worried about, you know, being dependent on this medication. But it was a short-term intervention that really made a difference and helped me to be more compassionate of others.
There was another incident in my life where, again, after a period of life events, I found myself in circumstances that I couldn’t control. And those are very discouraging; I just felt so hopeless and helpless. And through what must have been a stroke of inspiration, I said, “You know what? I can’t help me. I can’t change my circumstances, but maybe I can help someone else.” And so I threw myself into serving others. And that sounds very “Sunday School,” but there’s a clinical piece to that; helping others releases endorphins. And it pulled me through that dark time; it gave me a sense of control because I could help change another person’s circumstances, even though I couldn’t help mine until things got better for me.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I saw President Russell M. Nelson illustrate that principle so well. He visited Paradise, California, after wildfires had destroyed that community; 18,000 structures burned, and he had scheduled a visit. And the day before he was supposed to fly to Paradise, his daughter died of cancer. And he came to Paradise anyway. And when we had the opportunity to ask him, he said, “We all have hard times. We all have devastating times.” He spoke very, very tenderly about the feelings that were consuming him as he dealt with the loss of this precious child. And then he said, “But, you know, we always feel better when we reach out and help other people.” And what we saw that weekend was circular, because he helped the people of Paradise, and then their collective strength turned and helped him. And I think everyone felt better at the end of that time.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Another wonderful intervention that I have learned from the Brethren is the power of gratitude. President Eyring spoke to that. And there’s actually clinical support for that; that just something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal helps us to keep our focus and gets through darkness.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yep. And we will link to President Eyring’s talk that encourages all of us to keep a gratitude journal. It’s also interesting that at the end of 2020, President Nelson did a huge invitation not just to the Church, but to the world to give thanks and show gratitude.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: Right. You know, those are testimony builders, for me. When the Brethren speak to principles that are supported in the literature for mental health, you know that they’re inspired. They’re absolutely amazing. You know, I tell my therapist sometimes, I said, “You know what, go to the scriptures, and study the works of the Savior, and you will find your best clinical interventions, because He is the Author of all truth. And you will find them if you look for them. He knew what He was doing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And this is so interesting and impacts so many people we know in so many aspects of our lives. How did you get involved in this? Tell us about your own career path that led here.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: You know, I’ll just have to tell you a little anecdote. Probably from a young age, counseling just seemed to be my niche. I had roommates who said, “You don’t have friends, you have clients” when I was in college. It’s just kind of come naturally to me, an ability to listen and to help, you know, dig deep into what issues are. I really did not plan on a career in counseling. I just always had an interest in other people and helping them to resolve their issues. When, well, I got an undergrad degree in child and family, which is a good basic foundation, not one that you can market. And there came a time in my life when I said, “You know, I need a little more security than that.” And so I went back to school in my 40s and got a master’s social work degree. And a few years after that, when my children were a little bit older, then I started my second career, my first being full-time mother, and my second career with Family Services. I had done an internship with them when I was doing my degree and absolutely loved it. And so, when an opportunity came, I went to work for them, and I’ve been with them now for 24 years.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you also came to know Family Services as you were building your own family.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: That’s true. That was my first introduction. One of my mental health journeys is surrounding my own infertility. And this led me to the opportunity to pursue adoption. Our first two children came to us through then-LDS Social Services — we’ve gone through several name changes — and it was an amazing experience. And I absolutely loved our caseworker. And that was my first introduction. I thought that someday maybe I’d like to do adoptions and work with single expectant parents. And so, that’s how I started my career.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m so glad that you mentioned that Family Services supports missionaries, ... single, expectant mothers — I think all of us are worried about youth. I am the mother of three young single adult daughters. They spend a lot of time on social media; I can’t think that that can be the healthiest for their mental health. What can we do for our youth?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: We also are very concerned about who we call the rising generation. I teach juniors and seniors in Sunday School, and I’m amazed at the caliber of these youth, but they are extremely vulnerable. They are very compassionate and very caring about social issues. And it’s very difficult sometimes for them to navigate all of the voices the same time. Our youth are so — they’re wrestling deceptions about their eternal identity. They wrestle expectations. They are so often told, “You are the saving generation. You are, you know, the chosen,” and sometimes that can be a lot for them. And so, they have a tendency to perfectionism. So, just this weight that they feel can be very heavy for them. They’re very aware of issues such as suicide; they see it among their peers, and a gospel topic and Sunday School class can quickly turn to “What about suicide?” And so, I do have concerns for them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And do you have strong feelings about social media, where people put their best foot forward, and maybe it adds to this pressure of perfectionism?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: I absolutely believe that, not only for our youth, but for all of our members.
Sarah Jane Weaver: For me.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: I don’t do social media very much. It’s an artificial world. It’s a distortion of reality. I mean, we don’t post our dirty laundry, we post our best days, and we have such a tendency to compare anyway. Social media can be very much focused on materialism. Social media can become a compulsive behavior. I think we’ve all experienced what a time waster social media can be. And at the end of that, you think, “Why, that was really not very meaningful. I learned a lot of trivia, but nothing that’s going to, you know, exalt or save me.” And so it’s, you know, it’s one of those tools that can be used for good; at the same time, it’s a bit of a trap, and particularly for the youth, it’s a really, kind of a dangerous playground for them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And sometimes I found it can leave you feeling sort of empty?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: Yes. Yes, for sure.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And we mentioned missionaries; I want to talk more about that. We have this rising generation, so many of them are serving in recent years, they’ve dealt with enormous pressures from the global pandemic. And then they have enormous pressures with missionary service. There’s expectations and worries if they come home early, or if their mission doesn’t go exactly as they anticipated it would be. How can Family Services help and support missionaries?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: We have a very strong partnership with the Missionary Department. Missionary services is one of our very key core services. If I could just move back a little bit from that, my concern about our missionaries is about their emotional resilience. And it’s not something that you learn well in the mission field. If, earlier on, I think families could start preparing their youth, they would have a better experience. You know, my youngest son, instead of going to college after he graduated high school, he did a major project. He ripped my deck off and rebuilt it at age 18. And I thought, you know, I think of that and stumps that he and I dug out together, I think that is some of the best preparation we gave him. Because his mission was hard.
And for our youth to learn to do hard things — in our efforts to love and protect our children, sometimes we do them a disservice if we shield them from discomfort. My father sent some of his sons to a cattle ranch in Montana so they could learn how to work hard. My parents, as they planned their strategy for their children, they built their dream home on a working farm so that we could learn how to work. And so, whatever it might be for youth, parents would do well to let them learn how to work hard.
They need to learn to disconnect from their devices. That’s one of the biggest challenges because devices become their coping mechanism. And whatever their coping mechanism might be, if it’s not portable to the mission field, they’re going to be in trouble. You know, we would love to have more input into curriculum for mission preparation courses in stakes. But we hope that leaders will recognize that in addition to learning the gospel and gaining testimonies, our youth need to learn how to become more resilient emotionally.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, and on more than one occasion, my husband accused me of being a helicopter mom. I do remember the feeling of — my oldest daughter served her mission in Honduras, and she went to the then-MTC in Guatemala, and we put her on a plane. And while she’s walking through security, I’m Googling flights thinking, “What if I just watched her? What if I just flew to California and made sure she made her connection?” And so, there is something that’s pretty hard about both preparing kids and then, at the right moment, letting go and just hoping that they have all that they need to be able to get through.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: You know, we focus so much on worthiness, and worthiness is essential. But worthiness does not necessarily mean readiness. I love that our young missionaries who are ready are able to go out at age 18. But there shouldn’t be pressure on an 18-year-old. Parents need to be very wise in determining what is their emotional readiness for this mission. We have a tendency to think, “Well, if I can just get them on the mission, then they’re safe for a couple of years.” But you don’t want them to crash and burn on the mission because they’re really not ready.
So, part of what we do with the Missionary Department is that we provide pre-assessments for missionaries who may have had some history with some mental health issues or some behavioral issues. And that allows us to kind of screen how ready they are in that realm, what would be the best recommendation for them about missionary service. In some instances, a service mission would be the most meaningful experience for them and still allow them to serve.
In field, we provide counseling as needed that is very much focused on growth, function and fit, are the terms that we use. This isn’t where we cure your mental health issues if you bring them to the mission field, but we help you to determine “Are you growing? How are you functioning? Is this the best fit for you in this particular teaching mission?” And so, we work very closely with the mission leaders, mission health councils and collaborating together to provide them that. For those who do return early, we provide counseling to help them transition.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And that was my next question; as the pandemic was just unfolding, and missionaries were crisscrossing the world, we had Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was then chairman of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council, join the Church News podcast. And in that interview, he said there’s two things that make a missionary: He said, the determination to go and to say, “I want to serve the Lord.” And then the acceptance of a call. He said, after that, there are sometimes things that are beyond a missionary’s control. And it may be physical health, it may be mental health, it may be a global pandemic, it may be mission realignment, or family circumstances, and sometimes missionaries come home. I think a lot of people are concerned about the stigma of that and how to help them transition forward. What is the best thing that families and board members and everyone else can do to support and rally around any elder or sister who finds themselves in that situation?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: I think, first of all, we need to prepare our youth for a season of service. Be prepared to give a season of service, whatever that might be, and instead of this “You need to duplicate what your mother or your father experienced in a, you know, this is the only legitimate mission.” And so, whatever they give is their loaves and fishes to the Lord. You give what you have. You bring that, the Lord builds on that. A formal mission for the Church is really just — I call it the MTC for life’s mission. And so they need to understand that this is not “the mission”; this was the first phase of service for you. ... Life is the mission. We come from the preexistence with a mission. And we don’t check the box because we finished a two-year mission. So, it’s important for those who support these youth to understand that concept.
The other thing is to just, you know, don’t ask questions, or even wonder, you know, “Were they unworthy? Are they just weak?” Whatever it might be. This is an individual who put themselves on the line and said, “I will serve a mission,” and the Lord has accepted that, and whatever they were able to give was their offering. And the Lord accepts that, and so welcoming them, congratulating them, letting them talk about, you know, “What was it like in your mission? What were some experiences that helped you to grow?” Normalize that, instead of not talking to them at all. I think sometimes that’s the issue: “I don’t know what to say, so I don’t even talk to them.” But to integrate them back into the ward, and into the family without stigma or judgment.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And so many things are hitting young people. We have all kinds of messaging about LGBTQ issues, about identity, President Russell M. Nelson gave this just beautiful, classic worldwide devotional for young adults and actually spoke about an identity that we should all have, you know. He says, first and foremost, we should look at ourselves and say, I’m a child of God, and then a disciple of the Savior, and then a person who makes covenants. How does knowing who we are impact our emotional and mental health?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: That is so critical, not only for our youth, and we’re very concerned about our youth. And you know, we all remember those really, spooky times in our lives, where we’re trying to figure out who we are. ... And it’s, you know, it ought to be an interesting discovery process and not be forced by others and other ideals and, you know, social issues. It’s important for youth to understand that this is a normal journey, to learn about yourself and, you know, “What are my interests? What are my, you know, what’s unique and special about me?” without crowding them into an identity. The only identity that really matters is their identity as a son or daughter of their Father in Heaven. That’s important for all of us.
We have a tendency to define ourselves by the events in our lives or by our mistakes and our challenges. And helping a client recognize that divine identity in them helps them to not only accept themselves as a person of worth, but also helps them to tap into their divine attributes, faithfulness and courage that they brought with them. And this has been an effective clinical tool that I’ve used. People get locked into, again, their life experiences, their failures, their addictions, their mental health, whatever it is. And they think that’s who they are. And if you can help them to understand that you were who you are for eons unmeasured, and you were courageous, and you were valiant, you were someone to be proud of, and to help them draw strength from the person that they were.
This is a moment in time; this is a very, very small moment in time. And we’re blinded by what we can see, but that doesn’t define us. We know because we’re here, that we were valiant. And so, I will invite them to reach out and connect with that person that you were, that person who was courageous, that person who had confidence, that person who had divine attributes. I think that’s an important understanding. Also, it helps them to connect to the healing power of the Savior’s Atonement, and helps them to understand that there is someone who will stand with you; through whatever you go through, you are not going to be alone.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I do think sometimes, our identity can become a little myopic. You know, I heard several years ago, Sister Rosemary Wixom — who was the Primary general president — she was speaking in a leadership meeting, and she says, I fear that some of our youth are more connected, or have, if you ask anything about them, would first and foremost say, “I’m a member of this competitive athletic team” or, “I play basketball at the high school” before they would say, “I’m a Latter-day Saint” or, “I’m a member of this family.” And so, that idea of bigger picture is pretty profound.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: We are so susceptible to labels, to labeling ourselves, and to connect ourselves to events. I was not a great student in my early years. I have some ADD, which I think everybody in the Church does, I’ve decided; I think all social workers do.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Many journalists, too.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: But that really hampered my growth, as I went into advanced degrees, because I had this idea that I am not bright; I am not one of the smart ones. And someone once said that we tend to evaluate our intelligence by our high school scores. But we also, you know, we do fall into that, you know, “So tell me about your high school.” “I was a cheerleader. I was a football player. I was a wallflower. I was whatever”; we get stuck there, instead of, “You know what, I don’t know yet. I’m still learning about who I am.”
I struggled with my weight from the time I was in about fifth grade. And to carry that label of “I am one of the chubby girls” has plagued me my entire life. You know, even though I’m at a healthy place, you still carry that. You know, it’s kind of like the secret that I have; if people really knew what my real label is, you know, they wouldn’t maybe think the same way. But if we had the attitude “People ought to know who I really am. I’m a daughter of God. And that is the most important identity that I have.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love that President Nelson also, right after becoming President of the Church, in another worldwide devotional said, I want you to be part of my battalion. I want you to be a force for good that does family history work, that goes to the temple, and that together can have great impact.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: That was really powerful for the youth. It gave them a cause to join. Youth love causes. And it gave them a powerful, a practical cause with an incredible leader, when he said, “Come join with me, and let’s do good.” And I see this among the youth that I teach. There are some very noble members of his battalion among our youth, but they are distracted and confused often by the noise they hear around them. And so, that was brilliant. I absolutely loved that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And in spite of all of that — in spite of the cause, in spite of all that we try to do to strengthen and support youth — there are times when they may be depressed. I know we prayed and agonized and we’re worried especially during the pandemic about one of our daughters. How do we know, and what does the Church teach about seeking help?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: First of all, let me just clarify: Episodes of depressive mood and anxiety don’t necessarily mean — I mean, if we’re going back to labels again — that is not necessarily a clinical diagnosis. Again, we love labels. Sometimes we like excuses. And not just counting those who truly suffer from debilitating depression, clinical depression, clinical anxiety, the more serious disorders, I think it’s important for you to recognize that the rains come, the gray days come, and sometimes they persist, but they need not fear that “Oh my gosh, I have depression.” Instead of, “You know, I’m feeling depressive today, and I’m going through, you know, a bout of depressiveness or anxiety.” Anxiety comes and goes. I mean, I struggle with that, but it’s not, you know, it’s something that I’ve learned to manage so that it doesn’t have to debilitate me.
The Church has, as I said, invited professional counselors into the Church organization; they’re very supportive of professional counseling. We have to be wise stewards of that and make sure that we are doing good, that we are building emotional resilience and emotional self-reliance in the process. Those are key principles. That’s part of what it means to align with the Brethren. A number of the Brethren, the leading Brethren, have spoken in a general conference relative to mental health, which has been amazing. It’s so needed. We can hear it from anyone else, but when we hear it from an Apostle —
Sarah Jane Weaver: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland; ... when we all think of his “broken vessel” talk.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: Oh, he is the patron saint of mental health, I think, if we had one. He is very dear to us and has done much good in recognizing this and normalizing. When he said, “I experienced this,” that really resonated with us. I also liked Carl B. Cook’s talk on discouragement, in just this last April conference, because he clarified this lane of, you know, discouragement comes to all of us. It isn’t necessarily a mental health disorder; it’s maybe a mental state. And there’s a difference between that. It can become depression. Grief and loss can become clinical depression left untreated; there are some things that we do need to address if they become clinical.
But I thought it was significant that the General Handbook of instructions actually instructs leaders to seek professional resources when they’re needed. And I’m just going to quote that. It says, “Some members may benefit from professional counseling where it is available. Such counseling or therapy can help members understand and respond to life’s challenges in healthy ways. Meeting with a professional counselor to gain insight and skills for emotional well-being is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it can be a sign of humility and strength.” I absolutely love the wording of that.
At the same time, I want to caution about being wise consumers of counseling. A bishop who refers to a community resource, or a member who seeks a counselor, needs to be very wise and discriminating to make sure that this is someone who is licensed, who has expertise in the area, a therapist who is going to respect their values, a therapist who is going to help build resilience and self-reliance and not dependency on counseling. And then just knowing that at any time, if you are uncomfortable with a counselor, again, you are the consumer — make a change. Say, “This isn’t working for me.” So, but absolutely, the Church is very much in support of that, but with caution, to be wise.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And many of us participated in the Church’s self-reliance classes. The Church also has emotional resilience classes. When I was the Relief Society president in my ward, I went through one of those courses with others in our congregation and found them enormously helpful. I even had my teenage daughter join me. ... Is this something that is just good, preventative medicine for people?
Sherilyn C. Stinson: It is. The thing I love about the Finding Strength in the Lord: Emotional Resilience is this is about what we’re talking about: How do you care for your mental health? It’s not therapy. It’s not meant to be treatment for those with severe mental health issues. But it’s, again, it’s a normalizing of those things that we all experience. And here are some tools and some skills that will help you to protect and preserve your mental health.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. And we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we always end with the same question. And we always give our guests the last word. So, this has been such an important and interesting conversation. Thank you so much for making time to join us. And then we’ll just turn the mic over to you and let you answer the question of what you know now after helping people seek ways to be mentally healthy.
Sherilyn C. Stinson: I think the first thing I would say is that change is possible. Change is absolutely possible, and that should give everyone hope. There is hope in the healing power of the Atonement. And knowing that in time, that all of these things that give us pain and distress will be taken from us. Some of them we have to keep because they temper us, and they help us to learn compassion. I think that I have learned that our Father in Heaven has very tender feelings about His children who suffer from mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. We feel his guiding hand in Family Services, and we know this work is very, very important to Him. If an individual can discover the power of partnering with the Lord Jesus Christ, I have learned there is nothing that they cannot overcome.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.