Most theories of human behaviour postulate a relationship between the mind and the body. There are different concepts of what the mind is and its mechanisms of action, including the ability of the body to affect the mind. The duality of the mind and body answers a lot about human behaviour. Plato, Descartes and Aristotle through to more recent theorists have all contributed to this understanding. At its simplest, this theory can explain how someone can walk across a room. I think that I want to walk across the room (mind). I walk across the room (body). Pretty simple stuff – we’ve all done it!!!

Arguments against the dualist view postulate that since the mind is a non physical entity, how can it affect a physical structure like the body, and potentially violate laws such as the conservation of energy. And there are others…

Mental illness can significantly impair the relationship between the mind and the body. For example in Schizophrenia, it is thought that increases in the neurotransmitter dopamine are associated with hallucinations and delusions. The mind believes that there are things going on, where in reality, they are not. These are manifested in behaviour one can see. Functional MRI’s taken when people are hallucinating, indicate that associated areas of the brain are active during that hallucination. For example, the visual cortex lights up when there are visual hallucinations occurring. Interestingly, elderly patients with Parkinson’s are often treated with L-dopa which increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. Too much can turn an elderly patient with no history of mental illness into one with a fully psychotic episode.

Broadly, in the gospel, it is held that we are agents unto ourselves, free to act and not be acted upon. The assumption is that we have full control over our minds and then, by consequence, our bodies. Sins or other actions are taken to have had their genesis in the mind over which we have had full control. There are some broad exceptions to this like intellectual impairment and other similar conditions. Most people are happy with these exceptions and that it would fundamentally affect that persons’ ability to choose.

So what happens when something like a mental illness affects us? It can alter that relationship between the mind and the body. Messages can get mixed up. Clarity can fade. Behaviour can be changed.

Medical advancements like deep brain stimulation have radically affected the way we view people’s behaviour. Consider for example, this woman who had been severely depressed for her whole life. I can only imagine many peoples response to her depression. Get over it, pull your socks up, what have you got to be sad about?? After a short treatment of stimulating her brain, years of depression were in the past.

In the gospel, it is most often thought that we operate not in a mind-body duality, but in a mind-body-spirit triad. This is an infinitely more complex system. Interestingly, as in D&C 130, “the spirit is matter”. The Holy Spirit is there as the third member of the Godhead to teach and guide us, amongst other roles. How is this achieved? We are told that the spirit can speak to our mind and our heart. I think in this sense the mind is our brain, or our conscious thought. Our heart, in this sense, is our spirit. Neither of these “receptors” is perfect. Our minds can be cluttered, diseased, subject to mental illness. Our spirit can be insensitive, unsanctified and impure.

So…try to imagine, for a moment, all the things that might be going on for a person at any given time – for a healthy functioning person. Then add illness, add stress, add a death in the family, add a mental illness, add poor nutrition, add substance abuse. How confident might you be in assessing that persons motives, behaviours and intent. It becomes an infinitely difficult task.

We have all seen people judge someone and many of us have made monumental errors ourselves in judging others.

My observations in the church is that many do not offer the same leeway to people who live with a mental illness as those with other conditions. And whilst I am not making light of other physical conditions, nor am I saying that they do not affect someone’s mind, I am saying that most mental illnesses directly affect the way we think and therefore add another dimension to our lives.

I recently (after much pushing) taught a fifth Sunday lesson on Mental Illness. I was rather nervous about doing so as I knew of many in the Ward with such issues. After I finished I had several people come up to me and with tears in their eyes, tell me that they had never before heard someone speak so kindly and thoughtfully about these issues in the church. I was humbled at such positive remarks, but I also felt a sense of sadness, that these adult members of the church had never before listened to a talk or lesson that spoke positively about mental health issues.

There is a significant “behavioural” flavour to the gospel. That is, there is an attraction in teaching people to do things (which are potentially measurable) rather than be things (which is not). Do your family history, do missionary work, wear knee length clothing, one pair of earrings, do your home teaching etc etc… It may be a topic for another post, but I was doing a bit of thinking on Q15 and their ages and professional lives. Most of them were educated and did most of their professional work during the 50’s-70’s when behaviourism was king (B. F. Skinner and Pavlov’s dogs). Maybe it’s just a false correlation?


However, I am buoyed by the recent General level discussions about mental illness and its effects. Whilst many years overdue, it is very welcome. Unfortunately, much of this has not filtered down to the local level where I still hear the same old rhetoric linking someone’s obedience to being “healed” of their mental illness.

1. Do you feel a dichotomous position from the church – a sense of “just do it” on one hand, and yet an acknowledgement of mental illness on the other

2. What, if anything, should be done at a general level of the church in relation to improving or understanding of mental illness and gospel principles? At a local level?