News stories have recently brought to light increased concern over LGBT Mormons in the context of mental health issues and suicide (here and here). Those articles contain helpful information specific to LGBT Mormons and their loved ones, and there are also many other resources online (see here, for example). A main suicide risk factor in this population and any other is depression.

Some Background
To grasp the effects of depression it’s helpful to understand the treatments. Medical professionals use two methods, either separately or in combination: medication and talk therapy. The medication counteracts the depression at the biochemical level. Like jump-starting a car battery, they help boost your energy so you can at least function at a basic level. Medications can also help restore an ability to feel positive effects from natural re-charging activities: religious worship, exercising, hobbies, spending time with loved ones, etc. Medications are often meant only as a temporary crutch.

The other treatment medical professionals use is talk therapy. This is more than just sitting and venting about your troubles. The therapist can help you find healthy ways to cope with trauma or grief that is contributing to the illness. A major reason for therapy, though, is that depression changes the way you think. Depression is like a funhouse-mirror, drastically distorting your perception of reality. The illness latches on to insecurities, fears, embarrassments and turns them into suffocating behemoths. The negativity finds avenues to reinforce itself, sucking you into whirlpools of helplessness and despair. The mental health professional helps identify the distorted thought patterns and teaches tools to recognize and disrupt their influence.

Mormon Beliefs through the Lens of Depression
When you view the world through the filter of depression, you see things differently than mentally healthy people. Religious beliefs take on new meaning. Below are some Mormon beliefs that can be used by a depressed person to justify and reinforce thoughts of death as a solution to their challenges.[1] Also listed are some ways you can respond if presented with these interpretations. Never ignore comments about suicide, even if the individual herself dismisses them as inconsequential.[2]

The afterlife is awesome. Most of us who’ve spent some time in the church have heard the idea attributed to Joseph Smith about the Telestial Kingdom: it is so amazing that if people saw it they’d kill themselves to get there (that’s why God had to instill a fear of death in humans). Besides the fact that depressed people have already lost the fear of death, this belief offers significant hope. “No matter where I end up in the afterlife, it’s infinitely better than the hell I’m living now.” Other people inadvertently reinforce this idea when speaking about those who’ve passed, “They’re in a better place now. They aren’t in pain anymore.”

What you can say: In the first place, there are questions surrounding the origin of the statement. Secondly, even if the statement were true, it would be foolish for someone miss out on the happiness God intended for them in this life in their zeal to obtain whatever happiness is in the life to come. Humans are built to experience joy in this life as well as the next.

My resurrected body will be perfect. Depression constantly reminds you of your weaknesses (real or perceived). If you see those weakness as defects arising from the fallen nature of your mortal body, a knowledge that the defects will be gone after death is comforting. The more pain you tie to those weaknesses (through the insecurity, shame and embarrassment that depression magnifies so well), the more you earnestly look forward to the elimination of those defects in the next life. For me, it was believing I’d have to deal with the constant depression for the rest of my life. For LGBT Mormons, they might perceive the confusion around their sexual orientation or gender identity itself as a defect of mortality that will go away after they die.

What you can say: We don’t know very much about the resurrection and what changes it will entail. Prophets have had a few interactions with resurrected beings, but descriptions of appearance and clothing doesn’t really give us much to go one. Medical problems, like mental illness, do present challenges, but God continuously inspires men and women to make marvelous discoveries to aid us in mortality. When it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation… we don’t have a detailed view of what eternity will look like with this. God hasn’t given us enough light and knowledge to put together all the pieces yet, but luckily he will give you the knowledge and direction you need to live the happy, fulfilling life our Heavenly Parents intended for you here on earth.

Death is preferable to sexual sin. This fallacy has, unfortunately, become ingrained in our culture. It’s typically attributed to Bruce R. McConkie, “Better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction, ‘I would rather have you come back home in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it’”[3]. For a depressed individual who is concerned about previous actions of a sexual nature or even just temptations of actions of a sexual nature, they may begin to feel that death is their best option. This belief is particularly dangerous for LGBT Mormons struggling with depression.

What you can say: This idea is wrong. FLAT-OUT WRONG. For one, it completely ignores the Atonement. Second, there’s the blindingly obvious: if you ever talk to a parent who has lost a child, they want that child back, no matter what he or she may have done. Finally, the statement in Alma 39:5 concerning the gravity of sexual sin was made to Corianton – a man who is later mentioned as preaching the gospel to the Nephites in the company of other church leaders (49:30) AND who didn’t end up in charge of keeping the sacred records ONLY because he happened to be out of the country at the time (63:10-11). Clearly God still had some use for Corianton in spite of sexual transgression as a youth.

Don’t be a weak link. This belief is tied to the idea of family honor. McConkie’s pine box quote also applies, where family expectations exert heavy pressure on individuals. A child’s visible success is thought to be a direct reflection on the righteousness of parents. Failure to live up to family expectations doesn’t just reflect poorly on the individual, it reflects poorly on the entire family. You are expected to live in a way that honors the sacrifices your parents and ancestors made. Through the filter of depression, the individual becomes convinced that their perceived weaknesses and failures are too much. They are a complete and utter disappointment, and if they aren’t outright rejected by their loved ones, they will be a continual source of embarrassment. Rather than living as a weak link, it’d be better to remove themselves entirely from the chain.

What you can say: Again, the blindingly obvious: if you ever talk to a parent who has lost a child, they want that child back, no matter what. If you talk to a wife and her children, they want their husband and dad back, no matter what. To make assumptions that family members will reject you without giving them an opportunity to prove themselves is blatantly unfair. They deserve more credit than that. There might be times where they behave as expected, but, more often than not, you’ll be surprised.

God designed me to fill a certain role. The depressed individual now believes they’ve come up short on God’s expectations (often around gender roles), and their loved ones are paying the price. I’ve talked to many women who all experienced the same thoughts I did: “I’m a failure as a mother. I’m supposed to like this, but I don’t. I can’t even take care of children’s basic needs. I can’t be the wife my husband deserves. I can’t be the mother my children deserve. It would be better if someone else took my place. My husband would be happier. My children would be happier.” The guilt from infertility, “I can’t even get pregnant, something any teenage girl can do. This is why I came to this earth and I’m failing. My husband wants a child, and I can’t give it to him. He deserves better.” The guilt of a father who can’t provide, “This is my job, this is my God-given role, and I can’t do it. My family deserves better.”

What you can say: Your family wants YOU. Not someone else. There might be unexpected challenges and disappointments, but they want to face those with you by their side. You have a unique set of gifts and talents that bring strength to your family and those around you. You don’t get to decide what they deserve – that’s not your job. Again, making a unilateral decision that removing yourself is best from your loved ones is blatantly unfair. As for the role God designed for you, you need to go directly to the source to find out what that is. Your path is up to you and God, not cultural expectations.

Discuss.

[1] These are based on personal experience as a life-long member of the church who spent way too much time with depression and thoughts of suicide over the past decade. Some of these counter-arguments are based on real conversations that helped me recover good perspective at the time.
[2] If the person is showing signs of depression, encourage them to seek a mental health professional. If they admit to suicidal thoughts, call the 24-hour, toll-free confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
[3] Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition, Page 124.