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Elder Kopischke: Prayer Alone Cannot Address Many Mental Health Needs

By Karen Austin

When General Conference weekend is approaching, some members will make lighthearted speculations about announcement or subjects for talks.  For example, I say one woman share a Tweet she sent prior to conference with a far-fetched (so she thought) prediction that Rexburg, Idaho would get a second temple. Sometimes I make lighthearted predictions; sometimes I hope to hear talks that address an area of public or private concern.

On Saturday morning of that weekend, I was talking to my husband and voiced this hope: “I really wish that someone would talk about mental health because it’s still too much of a taboo among many members of the Church.”

Consequently, when Elder Kopischke of the Seventy delivered his talk “Addressing Mental Health” during the Saturday Afternoon Session (Saturday, October 2, 2021), I was highly alert and very still. I was eager to soak up everything that he said. He shares his own family’s experience in supporting a child who lives with mental illness and how the Kopischke family and their network of friends and family offered meaningful support. He encouraged people to show compassion and acceptance towards those living with mental illness.

I would add from my own experience (as a person living with an anxiety disorder), that it’s vital that we not define people only by their challenges. People are much more complex than their diagnosis. We all have strengths and weaknesses, challenges and resources.  Let’s magnify people’s strengths while using our strengths and resources to help others. We can do so in a more nonchalant way, like opening a door for someone who is carrying a lot of packages. We don’t have to make dramatic gestures. We all have a lot to offer each other while showing mutual respect.

But back to Elder Kopischke’s talk. He encouraged those who must manage symptoms to avoid the dangers of feeling shame and worthlessness, but to see there is hope and there is help.

I encourage people to read his talk or listen to it. (Here is the ASL supported version.) Let me share just one paragraph:

I cannot describe the countless miracles that accompanied these events. Gratefully, our son survived, but it has taken a long time and much medical, therapeutic, and spiritual care for him to heal and to accept that he is loved, valued, and needed.

You can see that he did not try to just “bless and pray” his son’s psychic pain away. The Kopischke family sought several types of tools from several frameworks to help the child who previously was living with a few diagnoses and then reached a crisis after an early return from a mission.

As human beings–mortals, each one of us with limitations–we benefit from sustenance found through a variety of sources.

Yes, the Atonement is a powerful force, but people benefit from mental health services for issues that affect a person’s psyche.

I grew up attending Primary where I was told that we have a body that is like a glove and a spirit that is like the hand, animating the glove. If that is true, then when people have problems with their body, they see a primary care physician or a referred expert to heal. They might seek a blessing, but there is not a stigma about seeing a doctor when your appendix is ready to burst. However, if the components of a human being are viewed as just body and soul, then it’s spiritual tools that people will use if the problem isn’t physical.

People are more complex than body and soul. We have a physical brain that hosts the controls to our body, our thoughts, and our emotions.

Hardware. The brain can have problems with the “hardware” or the physical parts of the brain. As a gerontologist, I study Alzheimer’s disease and other neurocognitive disorders. Alzheimer’s disease is not a moral failing. It’s a buildup of amyloid plaques and tau tangles that interfere with the function of the brain.

Cognition.  People can experience problems with cognition, how the brain processes the senses, perceptions and thoughts. Talk therapy and medication can address some cognitive difficulties, or people can find ways to accommodate their cognitive differences.

Also, some people’s cognition are not problems, but a diverse from what is accepted as the norm for how people perceive, process, and express their thoughts. We can learn a lot by treating others with dignity and respect when they share their perceptions and thoughts that come from a perspective that differs from ours.

Emotions. We can have problems regulating our emotions, which arise from the whole body, but the control center for our emotions exists in the brain.

Multiple Factors–Complex and Interconnected. Our genetics, environment (physical and social), personal experiences (including trauma inflicted by others), and choices can manifest as mental illness, a disorder of some sort. I am not an expert, so I don’t want to elaborate further.

I am just trying to provide some context for my main point:

Many people live with mental illness insist on only using spiritual tools–or their family members dissuade them from seeking help from a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist. This rejection of professional help is usually inadequate, sometimes grossly inadequate—leading people to suffer unnecessarily. There are many experts who can help with talk therapy, prescription drugs, and other forms of intervention to treat symptoms for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and more.

I am sorry that I don’t have international statistics, but the US government’s National Institute of Mental Health states that 1:5 people in the United States live with any mental illness (AMI), which can include severe mental illness (SMI).  I realize that not everyone has  health insurance, and not everyone lives near a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. But some people do have those resources available to them.

And even though these videos are not the only strategy for addressing mental health needs, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has produced several short videos on the topic of mental health posted to the Church’s official site.

Whatever your situation, may you be blessed with every needful thing, and may you be able to find resources to address your needs—resources from a variety of organizations. And may saints and angels attend you in your hour of need. I have hope that we can all work together to lift each other up—with a combination of human and divine assistance.

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About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

3 thoughts on “Elder Kopischke: Prayer Alone Cannot Address Many Mental Health Needs”

  1. Karen – Thank you so much (and Elder Kopischke) for addressing this important and ongoing issue! It is wildly aggravating to hear people of faith dismiss the benefits of good psychological/medicinal care. It's not just aggravating, it can be deadly. I sometimes jokingly say that mental health issues don't run in our family, they gallop. I am SO grateful for contemporary enlightenment about the value of good psychological support. My parents and grandparents generations didn't have that available and many of us pay the price of untangling ourselves from poor parenting caused by the untreated psychological issues of our elders.

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  2. I'm grateful that Elder Kopischke shared these thoughts and experiences. But living in a family with a few serious cases of mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression), I have thought a lot about this topic, and I've noticed something. I have never heard of an experience where a priesthood blessing cured someone suffering from a major mental illness, especially a psychosis. Has anyone out there ever heard of such a success story. I've wondered why God can cure cancer and other ailments at times, but why mental illness seems to be untouchable. Anyone?

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  3. Linda: Thank you for describing how you are addressing the issues in your extended family. I feel bad for people who have suffered from a variety of maladies before medical advances.

    Tom: Oh, that is a difficult situation. I am not a theologian, and I don't do a very good job trying to describe abstractions that explain big questions like justice, faith, and miracles. I do recognize that some of the stories in the New Testament might fit descriptions of mentally ill (possessed with devils) as having those caste out. But each time and culture explains phenomenon through their own cultural framework. (See the book _The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down_ about US doctors trying to treat a Hmong child with competing cultural frameworks.) And I do not know of a modern-day account where a person had a serious mental illness cast out of them in an act of healing.

    But I can offer you compassion (which may not even be adequately expressed). I'm almost 60, so I have seen people living with serious mental illness for decades. With my own anxiety (which is mild to moderate and at times crippling), I have never thought to be asked to be healed. I feel as though it's a type of disability that I will always live with, but that I can sometimes manage and sometimes it's unmanageable. And then I have to battle the shame of being deregulated in front of people. My son has a problem with his pituitary gland, and we never thought to ask for a healing. It affects several of his body systems, and I feel bad for all the issues he has to manage, and when he was a minor, I tried to get him the appropriate medical treatment (that was a task where I prayed: to find specialists), but he still has longstanding issues that will always effect him.

    It seems as though there are some aspects of the human condition that we get stuck with (genetic disorders is another category; I've never seen anyone healed from that). People have some physical-mental-emotional maladies that cause great suffering. (Addiction is a problem that has affected my extended family.)

    Sometimes to fight my own flaws or grieve for the challenges I see other living with, I visualize the day of the resurrection when people's unaffected bodies and minds will be restored to a wholeness. In the mean time, I try to be supportive. I teach nursery, and I take the attitude that the children who struggle the most are the ones that need the most love. They often have challenges that are greater than their resources to manage them (learning disabilities, emotional trauma, mental illness, physical challenges).

    And that attitude is probably appropriate for adults to: I need to trust that people are doing the best with the resources they have (even when I see someone who is deregulated / having a crisis). Often the challenges people have greatly outpace any and all available resources. So we hold each other by the hand in the moments we have together and try to meet each challenge one day at a time until the resurrection offers us all wholeness.

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