288: Treating Depression in Mormon Culture

September 27, 2011
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Natasha Helfer Parker (the Mormon Therapist) interviews Dr. Christopher Helfer and Dr. Vicki Winkle, two 4-year residents at the University of Utah in the psychiatric program, regarding depression. Both were raised in the LDS faith. This podcast offers basic education as to what clinical depression entails, current “best practice” treatments that are backed by scientific research, and includes some discussion as to how depression manifests within Mormon culture.

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11 Responses to 288: Treating Depression in Mormon Culture

  1. Gwennaëlle
    September 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I must admit I chuckled at some statements. My mother is schizophrenic which lead me to do some research on the subject. I found out that to French psy-whatever 90% of the population is schizophrenic.
    To Americans psy-whatever it is 100% of the population that is schizophrenic.
    So yes. I guess to you schizophrenia has to be genetic.
    I am just nicely teasing. I don’t want anyone to feel bad or to think that I am laughing in a bad spirit.

    I chuckled at the very very very last statement which quoted the famous scripture about the fact that we are meant to be happy. This scripture is so often over looked and never pondered about and I am so glad that you mentioned it as the conclusion because if members would take it better in consideration I think their behavior and points of view would change quiet a bit.
    There is a tradition of sadness and unhappiness in all religious movement that to me is antagonistic to spirituality. So thank you for this last sentence.

    • Natasha Parker
      September 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      Thanks and I agree about the joy scripture.  We should spend a lot more time discussing the implications of this beautiful concept regarding what life is about. 

      • Info
        November 6, 2011 at 7:39 am

        Natasha, I have enjoyed all of your participation on the Mormonstories Podcast.  I think this topic–  the implications of this concept of joy, life and the spirit from your (and your colleagues’) perspective(s) could be extremely positive.

        One of my favorite scriptures is:   “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”    (Isaiah 55:12)

        That is a very powerful depiction of joy!

  2. Gwennaëlle
    September 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Oh and if what I read is not accurate concerning the ratio of schizophrenic people just blame it on the French :)

  3. Sophshepherd
    September 27, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    As a chiropractors wife thank you Dr Chris for the refreshingly honest statement about someone not having enough ibuprofen in their bodies, or any chemical in which we use to treat headaches or depression or anything and being bold enough to say we need to get to the underlying cause of the problem! With docs like you out there, we are closer than ever to that reality!!! So exciting!!
    I disagree that therapists should refrain from advising someone to leave or join a religion especially if you are finding as a clinician that it is an ongoing issue. Thinking to yourself that this person should leave and not saying it is not what they are paying you to do! Having them alive and HAPPY is far better than not for sure!

    • Natasha Parker
      September 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      Thanks for your comments! 
      In most of my training it’s been very clearly delineated that when we “advise” or basically tell people what they should do – you are no longer doing therapy.  You are giving advice.  Sometimes people think that is what they are paying a therapist for.  But therapy is supposed to be more about asking the right kinds of questions and providing the right type of environment for people to come up with the choices that resonate within themselves.  Otherwise, there is too much power that a therapist can have since we are already in a position of authority.  And if a choice is made without that personal resonance, then it’s too easy to not take accountability for the consequences of the choice and rather blame the therapist.  And if the therapist is giving this type of advice some blame towards the therapist is appropriate.  We have to be very careful of the influence we yield. 
      I understand that most therapists will give suggestions of some sort of another, specifically when it comes to treatment approaches (i.e. suggestion to get a second opinion, to consider psychotropic medications, to consider a relaxation exercise, etc.).  However, I do see it as dangerous when a therapist suggests that a person should do things that are much higher in gravity: should get divorced, should stay married, should leave a religion, should put a child up for adoption, etc.  There is also a difference between saying “this is what you should do” versus allowing for considerations.  In other words, it is appropriate for a therapist to lay out all of the options and help explore what might be the cons/pros of each option.  Part of this is education (i.e. some of the benefits/risks you may face if you choose this route are…).  At the end of the day however, it is important that the client take responsibility for the course their life will take.  I think that is what we were trying to set forth in the podcast. 

  4. New2podcasts
    September 27, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    I thought it covered a healthy approach to a years gone by taboo topic. I also thought it skipped over the differences between LDS law and what is actually healthy especially with regard to sexual things of nature. When a therapist has to bite their tongue and not recomend or give advice to someone to leave their religion it kind of casts a question on the continued membership of the therapist in that religion. How much of life is learning to live with lies or disrepencies?

  5. September 29, 2011 at 11:38 am

    If depression is caused by a chemical or neurotransmitter deficiency then do doctors test those levels and receptors prior to prescribing meds or do they just prescribe without really knowing what the patient’s current chemical and brain function levels are? If so, why?

    There was also talk about a job or church affiliation being a factor in depression and the possibility of symptoms improving if the person removes the irritant from their life? Does that really help for long term management? It seems like there is a greater issue that may need to be addressed. If a person is chasing happiness they will always be chasing happiness unless they can nail down first, exactly what happiness is. 

    O2-…if altitude is a contributing factor I’d be interested to see if oxygen levels in the body aid in synapse and/or in the body’s ability to produce neurochemicals. OR does it have more to do with the dreary weather that is typical of higher altitude? We all need more SUNSHINE?Finally – oh darn it, I can’t remember what my other question was. DOH!

    P.S. – hello Chris (if you are indeed the same Chris that I went to middle and high school with …you sure look like the same guy.)

  6. Gail Knickerbocker
    October 5, 2011 at 5:56 am

    I liked most of what I heard on this podcast.  I was disappointed with the assertion about what God wants for his children, ie, love and happines and joy etc. and NO ACKNOWLEDGMENT that if you read the scriptures you will find a vengeful tyrannical God who wants things HIS way and if they do not go his way then he will kill, sourge, drown, burn whole cities.  The observation that some of us are a bit more literal than others was a great observation and acknowledging that for some of us religion is deadly, literally.  (stone to death the adulterer etc.)  If one believes that God loves his children and wants them to experience love, joy, peace etc then you must not read ALL of the scriptures or ignore those you don’t like.  Those who can do that, good on them.  I am married to one of those kind.  The nicest most unvengeful person around AND I am a literal kinda person.  I believe that my beliefs in the LDS church and my intent on living my understanding of the Gospel to the T was a big part of my brain succumbing to clinical depression.  The cognitive dissonance caused by believing in and trying to please a god who is Bipolar made me crazy!!!!  I do see a therapist.  I do take mind altering drugs.  AND I have times where I am ALMOST what I would call normal.  I no longer participate in the LDS church.  I deal with the LDS church daily as I am married to an active temple working man and I have 11 children, 10 of which are active believing committed LDS.  I will NEVER forget what the teachings of the church did with my personality.  Bad news for certain people.  It got one of my kids too but he is OUT way earlier than I was,  I am glad he is in a position to get help BEFORE he gets married or brings children into the world.  Getting ones life straightened out AFTER one has bought the whole story hook line and sinker and brought up 11 kids in this system was and is not easy.  Thanks for all you therapists and Psychologists do to assist those of us suffering mental illness!!!!

    • New2podcasts
      October 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      Wow! Nice open honesty in this reply. The point I was hoping to get an answer to was in that these professional folks have figured out a way to be both LDS dogmatic and non religious in pursuit of profession without being guilty of being hypocrits. How does one that can be in both worlds share the skills required to maintain sanity?

  7. Idahospud
    October 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Great podcast; thanks to those who participated in making it and making it available.  One theory for the high preponderance of antidepressant prescriptions written in Utah could be that LDS don’t self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or sexual acting out as often as those who haven’t been raised to avoid those behaviors.  When their symptoms prompt them to find help, they go to conventional medicine rather than to behaviors that mask those symptoms.

    Thanks too, Gail, for pointing ouit that it’s not too hard to find reason for literal-minded folks (or any Bible-based religionist) to experience debilitating cognitive dissonance.  It’s pretty tough to work your way out of it or find peace with it.

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