According to recent statistics, nearly 7% of all Americans will experience a major depressive disorder in their lifetime. Members of the Church are not immune from this statistic. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of the serious nature of mental illnesses in his General Conference talk, Like a Broken Vessel.
We sense the complexity of such matters when we hear professionals speak of neuroses and psychoses, of genetic predispositions and chromosome defects, of bipolarity, paranoia, and schizophrenia. However bewildering this all may be, these afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.
Even in the face of such information, many who struggle with depression and other mental illnesses feel isolated and alone. While such feelings are very real, there should be comfort taken in the deep spiritual examples of sufferings and deliverance in the scriptures. This is just one of them.
In one of the most pivotal moments of the Book of Mormon, the people experience days of major disaster. Earthquakes, fires, floods, and more did so much damage that “the whole earth became deformed.” Thunder and lighting lasted for three hours and then “there was darkness upon the face of the land.”
For those who have depression, the following passages from 3 Nephi 8 will sound familiar when related to their own experiences.
And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;
And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.
Depression is characterized by darkness. From irritability and insomnia to feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts, depression (as Elder Holland puts it) causes “a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively.”
Perhaps worst of all, there is a feeling that such darkness will never end. For the Nephites, the darkness was so thick and so great that no light could exist. Surely they must have wondered if they were doomed in such a state forever. Those with depression face similar feelings.
However, just as these scriptures can be related to the darkness of mental illness, there is also the promise of light from our Savior, Jesus Christ. First, a voice pierces through the darkness inviting all to come and be healed.
Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.
What follows next are the beautiful interactions between Christ and the people, which can be read in 3 Nephi 11-26.
The tiny spark of light that can get through even in the midst of utter darkness is the light of Jesus Christ. Christ declares himself that he is the light of the world. Anyone, including those with mental illnesses, can hold onto the promise that if we turn to the Savior of the world we will be delivered from darkness.