Teen Suicide in Utah – My Elder’s Quorum Lesson Today

April 23, 2006
By

Today, Deseret News began a multi-part series on Teen Suicide in Utah. Some of the statistics were surprising to me:

  • Every 11 days a Utah teen commits suicide
  • Utah leads the nation in suicide among men 15-24
  • Utah has the 11th highest overall suicide rate in the nation
  • The Utah youth suicide rate has tripled over the last few years
  • Suicide is the #1 cause of death among Utah teens

Since today’s Elder’s Quorum was on death & resurrection, I decided to teach a lesson on depression and suicide in the church. My sources were:

A few notes from my lesson:

Who is at risk for suicide?

  • Someone experiencing a recent death in the family (or close friend).
  • Males (4x more likely to succeed in a suicide attempt), though femails attempt more often.
  • Those strugging w/ gender identity/homosexuality (1/3 of all cases in Utah)
  • Families with history of mental illness
  • Youth who tend to get into lots of trouble
  • Substance abusers (alcohol is a depressant, and makes things worse)
  • Those who feel hopeless & isolated
  • Those with extremely high expectations (“pefect child”)

What are the Signs?

  • Sleeping problems (insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Changes in appetite and in weight (losing weight, or gaining weight)
  • Social withdrawl/isolation
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • High amounts of guilt
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • “Crying Jags”
  • Substance abuse
  • High risk behavior
  • Making “final arrangements”–saying goodbye, apologizing, etc.

Cause

  • 90% of cases reported to be associated w/ mental illness, and 90% of mental illness has a genetic component
  • Stress/pressure/guilt can trigger
  • Isolation

Prevention

  • Talk about it
  • Seek professional help
  • Be accepting and non-judgmental
  • Exercise, eat right
  • Increase exposure to sunlight
  • Encourage “early to bed, early to rise”
  • Provide a stable home
  • Remove guns & firearms from house
  • React in a low-key manor
  • Avoid “pat answers” (gospel related)
  • Encourage hobbies

A few of my favorite quotes:

  • “Dr. Daley, who has counseled scores of members coping with mental illness and depression, explained that one of hte general myths among Church members is that, “If I am righteous enough, I will not have depression.” There are many, many righteous members of the Church who are keeping the commandments and they’re doing everything right every day. They’re temple recommend worthy and they suffer from horrible, clinical, diagnosable, symptomatic depression.”
  • “Certainly sin can cause depression, but the absence of sin does not prevent people from having the experience of depression.”
  • LDS Church States, “Each year, a certain number of CHurch members take their own lives. Many of these deaths could be prevented by a better understanding of the problems of suicide.”
  • Elder Ballard: “Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”
  • “Learn to accept and love your child for who she/he is. Recognize and show that you value your child’s unique qualities and the activities that are important to him/her. Lift. Praise. Don’t criticize.”

My Least Favorite Quote:

  • From 1958 Edition of Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie: “Suicides. See Murderers. Suicide is murder, pure and simple, and murderers are damned. There is no more justification for self-murder than for the wilful destruction of another. There is a common and supposedly compassionate tendency on the part of many to reason that all who commit suicide must be mentally unbalanced and that therefore they are not accountable for their crimes…..But the great probability is that nearly all self-murderers–though they may be depressed an mentally ill–do in fact know right from wrong, the same as most killers do. No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”

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40 Responses to Teen Suicide in Utah – My Elder’s Quorum Lesson Today

  1. annegb
    April 23, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    Oh, good for you, John. I wish we could have one of these lessons twice a year.

    My 18 year old son shot himself 14 years ago and I bugged a friend who bugged a friend into putting together a book for Mormons on suicide. You can get it online and it’s slowly finding its ways into bookstores. We couldn’t get Deseret book to look at it because “too depressing a subject.”

    I buy the books on-line and give at least one a month away. I think last month here in southern Utah we had three suicides.

    Send me your address and I’ll send you one. It’s a worthy effort.

  2. pjj
    April 24, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    This was really a great thing to do John. What was the response of the class?

    That Bruce R. McConkie quote is horrible, just horrible.

  3. April 24, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    Hey pjj!

    The response in Elder’s quorum is always the same. :)

    1/3 are asleep. 1/3 are really disturbed and frustrated w/ me. 1/3 are engaged and apparently (sometimes vocally) appreciative.

    However, kudos to my ward for letting me keep teaching. They’ve kept me in for over 1.5 years, in spite of some very frank lessons. Not sure how long it will last…but I’ve been impressed at their patience w/ me.

    Yeah…that Bruce R. quote is tough. In all fairness, kudos to Bruce for eventually changing it. Also, I think he was just trying to discourage suicide by being harsh…..so I think I understand why he was saying that stuff. Still…..I’m sure it caused as much pain as it avoided.

    Anyway, thanks for writing!!!

    P.S. I’ve update this post to include links to ALL the articles, fwiw. I think you’ll be impressed w/ how progressive some of those articles are.

  4. DJP
    April 25, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Sounds like a great lesson, John. Depression & Suicide are very poorly understood in the Mormon faith.

    I believe depression is one of the adversary’s most powerful tools used to stymie spiritual growth.

    McConkie said some crazy things in his day. I tend to dismiss most of his commentary.

  5. pjj
    April 25, 2006 at 11:05 am

    John, I think it’s really great that you have a third of them upset and disturbed with you. I presume that someone in the bishopric must like what you’re doing or you’d be gone by now. If you can get a third of them uncomfortable with their cozy assumptions and beliefs you’re doing well. And I hope that maybe the other third really is enjoying what you’re doing. I think that talking about suicide and depression in the context of our religion is so much more important than yet another standard lesson on death and the resurrection. Two friends of mine have had children who committed suicide– so it’s a very real threat. I think until this happened to people I knew well, I assumed that if only the family was better, and more aware, they could have prevented it… now I know better.

  6. April 25, 2006 at 11:39 am

    I hope it’s making a difference. I know it is for a few in the quorum. I imagine it won’t last too much longer (I’ve been in for 1.5 years now, and I think some are really starting to wear thin), but to the Church’s credit (and the EQ president)–I’ve been allowed to do this for over a year…which wasn’t what I expected at all.

    John

  7. PM
    April 26, 2006 at 6:51 am

    Why is the obvious to everyone else not obvious to Mormons. The reason that Utah has the highest suicide rate in that age brackets is because self righteous cult following Mormon parents detached from reality and so caught up in rituals and rules and dont provide their children with the time and support required by a parent (gods greatest gift) to focus on their development as human beings rather than mormon clones. Parents who blog day in and day out about injustices and issues with church doctrines but still subscribe and promote the cult and parents who push their children into rituals and obligations from an early age (priesthood at 12) before the children even have a chance to develop – for fear if they acquire independent knowledge and objective views they wont choose to be mormons.
    So many mormon families i know have all the time for their ward, their rules their rituals but no REAL time for their children and the real problems children face in the big bad world within and outside Utah!

  8. Derrick C
    April 27, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    Unfortunately no group of people have a corner on parenting. But PM, I can definitely say that growing up in my house, developing an honest sense of self was more important than developing a sense of Mormon identity, though both parents were active (Dad was Bishop for a time). My mom taught me to not use phrases like “I KNOW the church is true” unless I really did know, and she never used that word herself. But I knew of her testimony because she took time to be so involved in my life that I knew a lot about her, not just sacrament-meeting-catchprases. Your comment made me stop and think, because I always thought this kind of teaching was really consistent with teachings of the church, and prophets, all the way back to Joseph Smith. Maybe the scenerio you describe is a result of so many Mormons getting married so young, that they don’t have any foundation except the church to hold on to when they begin to have kids and raise them.

  9. brooke
    April 27, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    hi john — i just wanted to say that i think your lesson is important for everyone, not just those who are mormon. i’m not mormon — i’m a unitarian universalist — but i think that a frank discussion like the one you had is important to have in all communities. the topic of depression and suicide is one that needs to happen — i believe we need to remove the stigma of mental illness. too many people simply do not get treatment because of the shame they feel because of their illnesses. thanks.

  10. chrisac80
    April 29, 2006 at 5:07 am

    Teenage suicide and homosexuality

    Hi John,
    I just wanted to point out that a substantial part of teen suicide is related to homosexual feelings.
    Some scholars estimate that up to 25% of teenagers comitting suicide attempts do so because of
    the conflict between their homosexual feelings and the norms of society.

    In previous podcasts you have pointed out the problematic relation between the LDS church and homosexuality.
    Therefore, I think it is no wonder that teenage suicide is quite high in Utah.

    The problem is not depression but the causes of depression.
    Of course, you can create cognitive dissonance in the teenager by imposing
    “God hates homosexuality” and then prescribe antidepressiva against suicide,
    but maybe a more realistic attitude would reduce the need for such medicine by a huge amount…

    I think that most depression have their cause in the environment and not in chemical dysfunctions in the body.
    Therefore, the wrong environment should be changed, not the chemical reactions in the body.

    If LDS women are exhausted,
    young men feel incapable of living up to the high standard of the church,
    people do not fit into the classical “married with (many) children” pattern,
    they feel depressed.
    It’s the roots which have to be fought against, not the resulting depression…
    Just my two cents on the topic,
    Chris.

  11. Podaddict
    April 29, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    Hi John;
    I just wanted to thank you for the tremendous help that Mormon Stories has been to me and my family since you began the podcasts. This subject of suicide is particularly important to me because my grandfather committed suicide when my Mom was six years old; he was buried on her birthday in October 1938. None of our family were LDS then, I was the first to join, here in England, in 1977, my parents followed a few months later but the LDS attitude to suicide wasn’t very comforting even then although the McConkie ideas had softened considerably. I’m glad things haved moved forward since then and church leaders seem to have taken on board some aspects of the psychology of the suicide phenomena.

    BTW, I taught priesthood all last year and am currently teaching gospel doctrine class, I can appreciate your comments about the reactions of class members. I know my approach is driving some of the TBM’s crazy but most of the class seem to engage well when I throw in some unorthodox questions.The gospel is just too rich and beautiful to be contained in the correllated straitjacket!
    Keep up the good work John, Mormon Stories is a worthy project.

  12. May 1, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Chris,

    I agree w/ much of what you write…and appreciate the perspective. I found the 1/3 number to be amazing myself.

    “Those strugging w/ gender identity/homosexuality (1/3 of all cases in Utah)”

    I imagine it might even be a bit higher.

    Podaddict…thanks for the kind words of support as well.

  13. May 1, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    For quantified inverse association of LDS religiosity with suicide, see the article by Hilton, Fellingham and Lyons, “Suicide Rates and Religious Commitment in Young Adult Males in Utah” in the American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 155, no. 5, pp. 413-419, 2002.

  14. Anon
    May 3, 2006 at 11:48 am

    As a teenager I considered suicide frequently and came close on many occasions. While some of my problems would definitely be attributed to OCD, which I later realized I had suffered from my whole life, there was a mix of factors which created the guilt and depression I felt. I, like many teenage boys, got sucked into the typical teenage boy problems, however when I realized these were sins and that I would have to talk to my bishop about them I was absolutely devastated.

    All my dreams about who I could become religiously came crashing down, I understood from growing up that only ‘really bad’ people had to talk to their bishop. The consequent guilt and despair drove me to use those sins as an escape, since I felt I no longer could find any hope in a faith where I was a ‘bad’ person. Life continued to get worse and worse and depression engulfed me. By the time I was sixteen I was so miserable that I felt I had to try and make a change, which I did, bit by bit until I turned my life around.

    Ten years have past but I feel those experiences are far behind me. In looking back I think that what would have helped would have been some understanding about mental illness but also more openness about typical behaviors which teenagers get stuck in. We so often talk in euphamisms in the church, I had never even heard the word ‘masturbation’ until I was already having problems with it(and even after that no one ever talked about it to us in Church) and I still don’t think I know what ‘necking’ is to this day. I am not saying we need to say these things are okay, I believe that the Church’s teachings on these things make us better people. But we don’t need teenagers feeling like they are failures, or that they will never be anything significant in the Church, simply because they have made some very normal mistakes. Those feelings don’t encourage repentance, they encourage giving up.

  15. May 3, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Anon,

    I am really, really grateful for you sharing your story. It is for folks like you that i do what I do. I really do believe that if we can increase the dialogue within the community/culture, we can prevent experiences like yours within the church from happening as often.

    Also, I live in Logan, and work at USU…so if you’re ever in town, please don’t hesitate to look me up. I’d love to meet/chat sometime.

    John

  16. annegb
    May 22, 2006 at 7:06 am

    Our ward listens up when suicide is mentioned. We had three suicides in three years, my son was the third. The first young man shot himself, then a returned missionary hung himself, then James. Two years ago a thirteen year old down the street shot himself.

    It’s like an epidemic here. You should come study us.

  17. May 22, 2006 at 8:56 am

    I am very sorry about James, Anne, and send you my love.

  18. May 22, 2006 at 9:52 am

    Thanks for posting that interesting study, John (Mansfield).

    There are a number of causal connections that can explain the negative correlation between religious activity among Mormons and suicide.

    1. Being an active Mormon protects you from suidide.
    2. Mormon culture is not a hospitable environment for depressed people.

    If Mormonism is an institution that selects successful and conformist individuals then it is no wonder that active Mormons are less likely to commit suicide. It’s also no wonder that some individuals who have been isolated respond to rejection with suicide.

    In Mormon culture there are three factors that induce depression:
    1. The belief that success in mortality amounts to divine validation, which implies that unsuccessful people are evil.
    2. Mormonism is a type of Christianity that focuses on perfection at the expense of forgiveness.
    3. The role of silence in Mormon culture (as in the absence of intimate communication).

    Emile Durkheim’s classic Suicide has established long ago that religions that validate individual success result in greater suicide rates. Especially throughout the seventies and the eighties, positive thinking lessons were ubiquitous in the LDS Church. The problem with those teachings is that people who fall short are themselves to blame. They just didn’t have the right attitude. They are not only losers but sinners.

    There is rarely ever a lesson about forgiveness. Taking a passage of the Sermon of the Mount out of context, we talk a lot about perfection. If one actually reads the five preceding verses, it is clear that Jesus does not expect us to be perfect in everything. Rather he teaches that our love shall be perfect. Jesus is quite specific. Perfect love means that it is not reserved to our brothers but needs to extend to our enemies. The Mormon emphasis of an exaggerated and imprecise commandment to be perfect is frustrating many Saints needlessly.

    However, the gospel is the good news. The good news is about the saving power of the atonement. It is precisely not about mortals’ obligation to be perfect. Otherwise, the atonement would not be meaningful.

    Be the theology as it may, it’s surprising when the emphasis of perfection depresses some people.

    On top of that Mormons do not talk about these problems with each other. Silence is probably the most pervasive feature of Mormon culture. It’s taboo to talk about problems that emanate from Mormondom. Pretending certainty we are discrediting faith and doubt. As a result, husbands and wifes and parents and children find it difficult to actually share their true feelings with each other, especially when religion is involved.

    As for myself, my mission was the worst time of my life, much worse than the army and even worse than living with my alcoholic father. Experiencing how matters that were supposed to be holy were trivialized for the sake of a goofy business model was more than I had bargained for. Moreover, I didn’t appreciate to be treated like a tool. The mission experience emaciated my testimony and did violence to my personality. The effects continue to influence my life negatively to this day.

    I suspect that there are thousands of return missionaries who share these feelings. It’s certainly a topic you read a lot about on the DAMU. I am not surprised that suicide increases with the influence of Mormon culture.

    The good news is that thanks to the Internet free speech is beginning to blossom in Mormondom.

  19. Doc
    May 22, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    By way of introduction, I am a multigenerational Idaho/Canadian mormon, now having trained many years outside of that subculture. I have spent 5 of the past 8 years in Missouri for medical training.
    too busy working on the beam in my eye to worry about the motes of others. The gospel as I see it, really as I have always seen it, has this at its very center. I have tried to live it as best as my imperfect frame allows. I just wanted to let you know that myself and others like me do exist in the church. We are not all of us a thoroughly disillusioned thoroughly naive. I think everybody struggles with a crisis of faith at sometime, if not many times, in their life.
    While this will rankle many of your readers, I believe it is by design. Just as background, I wanted to let you know, I had a severe, life altering bout with major depression that could well have left my life in shambles ( if not self ended) just a few years ago. I absolutely take issue with the assertion that this is a problem “caused” by our religion. Due to my counseling, learning, and medical background, I know very well the statistics dealing with religion(which hold for any religion, BTW)and anxiety, suicide, and depression. However I am compelled to say it was BECAUSE of that experience that I reached a whole new level of faith. You see, I firmly believe that depression, guilt, etc are part of a “Terrestrial” understanding of the gospel. The higher level of understanding on this point lies something absolutely transcendant. Mormon doctrine, the spirit and most of all the atonement of the savior move one far beyond your description of “mormon culture” and success being due to personal righteousness etc. al etc. These beliefs are not doctrinal. They are superficial and insufficient uderstanding of what the gosple and plan of salvation are all about.
    When I read of others in this formus who talk about the “Focus on Christ/Increase in love” the “Church” needs to solve its problems, I feel I have to screa, that IT IS ALREADY THERE to the extent that we as individuals can receive it, and I would submit that letting bitterness and disappointment fester inside someone towards mormon culture creates just as much anger, depression, and loss of hope. Blaming a culture seems to me a completely fruitless exercise.
    ALL of us must learn to be more open, honest and introspective to solve these kinds of issues within our selves at some point in our existence if we are ever going to be happy or at peace. The solution is not some external application of social engineering.
    In saying this I truly hope no one will think I am trivializing the issue. I assure you I take it very seriously and always try to have my eyes wide open for any who might be suffering from these problems Because I know they can find help. I do not wish in any way to trivialize the issue. Death from depression and suicide are nothing but horribly tragic and my most sincere feelings of empathy go out to anyone whose lives have been scarred by the effects of depression, anxiety, suicide from the deepest depths of my soul.

  20. May 22, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    Doc,

    My only question is….do you feel like the church actively supports this higher level of understanding, or is it something that the members have to discover on their own (via forums like this)?

    My experience at church is that all forces are focused on this telestial level of understanding of which you speak…..forever a diet of milk….but never the promised meat.

    For example, where can we go within the church to gain a deeper understanding of how to reconcile our problematic history? Where can a gay person go to find their role in the church? etc.

    I, personally, do appreciate your perspecive and voice here…..

    John

  21. FreeAtLast
    May 22, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    Anne,

    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your son, James, and the other people in your ward. I know a mental health professional in Ogden who is a suicidologist. His name is Mark Malan (Ph.D.). Mark’s a great guy. His e-mail is MalanMedia@aol.com and his no. is (801) 334-8583. Perhaps people in your ward or stake would be interested in having Dr. Malan speak to them about why young Latter-Day Saints take their lives. If it prevents another suicide or attempted suicide, a presentation/talk by him would be very worthwhile.

    Best wishes.

  22. May 22, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    Good to meet you, Doc.

    There is a reason that suicide rates are higher in parts of the country where the Mormon share of the population is larger. May be, it’s a spurious correlation. There is that study that John Mansfield linked and which shows a correlation between a youth’s activity level and a declining suicide rate. On the other hand, if one looks at the classics of sociology, it is clear that Mormon culture does entail some properties that induce higher rates of suicide.

    Appeals to personal responsibility are always good. I am somewhat concerned, however, about arguments that burden individuals at the expense of organizations and institutions.

    Eastern Europeans, for example, are poorer than Westerners because of Communism, not because they did not work hard enough. Of course, it’s true that we all need to work harder. That’s not a particularly helpful observation though.

    Institutions make a difference. So do ideas. Hence it is worthwhile to question our beliefs to see if they actually reflect reality and how they affect our lives.

    Not all philosophies and religions are equal. Some are better at certain aspects of live and might be lousy at others.

    I don’t really know why suicide rates are comparatively high in the Rocky Mountain west. But I do not think that it is a fascinating discovery that the individuals who are best connected in society are less likely to commit suicide. A much more interesting question would enquire into the role of Mormonism with respect to social marginalization.

  23. Doc
    May 22, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    John,
    Regarding these historical issues, Homosexuality, etc, I’m afraid I have to give an answer that you and others have struggled with. I don’t have the answers. Certainly not any I can give quickly or that will convince anyone who is not ready to hear them. Please understand, I don’t say this to dodge the questions. Here aris what I’ve found f=helpful in my life when faced with such a problem.
    1) Go back to basics and focus inward.
    Call me naive, but I believe hard doctrinal or historical issues sometimes I think need to be backed away somewhat to try and get perspective. Feeling lied to is hard, Its painful, feeling betrayed is frustrating. Re-examining the “milk” I believe is actually helpful and I’ll tell you why. We simply forget them far too often. Each of us is a child of God, We have ALL have a potential within each of us that is beyond any of our capacities to understand. Regardless of what mistakes we may have made, what temptations we suffer, what failures may occur in our lives, we do not have to give up. You see, The Savior came specifically into this life to understand our temptations and shortcomings so we aren’t alone, and when we make mistakes, we can pick ourselves up and keep going. “Not the spirit of despair , but of a sound mind and understanding.” Come unto me ye that are heavy laden, for my Yoke is easey and my burden light.” These are milk doctrines one could say but far too often we just do not get them. Sometimes we won’t get them until certain events bring us to rock bottom. For myself it was at this point that the Savior became real, 3-dimensional, in a way that I can’t do justice with words.
    2) Seek to understand the source towards which your bitterness is directed and forgive.
    Learning to forgive others, Being aware that by what measure you judge by this shalt thou be judged, before removing the mote from the eye of others cast first the beam out of thine own eye. Remembering that the Saviour spent most of his mortal life with those of low social status, the meek, the lowly, That we are warned over and over and over again about the dangers of pride throughout the scriptures, and then realizing that while these things may be so easy to see in others, We are really warned so that we can root them out of ourselves. No one is in more danger than those who feel self justified and lift their hearts into believing that they are better than someone else. At it’s heart, Isn’t this where the apostate road leads every bit as much as it is at the heart of where the I am the elect and chosen of God road leads. “I am better than all these members in the church because they do some horrible things, the leaders have done things I see has horrible, they are dishonest, they are untrue, the members of Israel, christianity, the Mormons believe they are better than everyone else so they themselves are nasty and horrible, God is horrible because he allows sufferring and pain into the world, religion is horrible because those who have believe they are better than those who don’t have it. Nonreligious are horrible because they are sinful, Blacks are less valiant in the preexistence and therefore less than us, Church members are awful and horrible bigots and therefore less than me, Homosexuals are horrible and cannot contribute to the church because the church emphasizes families and eternal marriage. Religion is horrible because it institutionalizes homophobia.” Every on of these statements have one thing in common. PRIDE.
    Bitterness, venom, bile, I think these feelings are absolutely destructive. They’re destructive when levelled against us and they’re destructive when we retaliate with them. Kudos and congratulations to you for seeking to create a forum then banishes these things as much as possible. I am sorry to hear that when you tried to discuss certain issues with others they felt threatened and fearful and were therefore less than helpful. So what can one do, try understanding why the other is doing what he’s doing then try and meet them halfway. Not an easy thing to do in the middle of a crisis, and maybe just suggesting it may raise anger in defensiveness in those who are misunderstood. But the thing is, when you can achieve this, your own soul becomes enlarged and some of the anger and pain dissipates.
    3) Continue personal study and prayer
    Look to understand your questions but also focus on the things that are redeeming about the gospel and your roots. The seed of faith is critically important. I relate to this. What resources have I found helpful. well forums like yours are helpful for trying to heal wounds through understanding and sharing. I found Institute in college to be one of the absolute best forums I ever found personally. There were some very gifted and inspired teachers there at the institute in Logan. I also have to say that My experience with priesthood leaders has been very good. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or what my difference is. Required reading in my mind for anyone struggling with depression is “Believing Christ” by Stephen Robinson.
    I really want to speak more specifically to the issue sof depression. part of the sickness with depression is that we have this internal voice that without maybe even our conscious understanding is persistently cherry picking things from our environment to tear ourselves down, telling us we are worthless. We are evil. We don’t measure up, we are alone and there is no one else that understands us. The more religious we are the seemingly more plentiful a resource we have for reasons for beating ourselves up. However, when the eyes of your understanding are opened by the spirit, we learn some truths that while obviously there the entire time become more apparent. Again Each of us is a child of Gad. All of us for that reason have a divine potential that is beyond our ability to comprehend. The Savior said” come unto me ye that are meek and lowly of heart for my yoke is easy and my burden light. Christ came to redeem all mankind, to understand what we feel in mortality, to show us a better way, To help us to become more united, Zion. Each of us is learning, Gad is working with all of us where we are at and to the extent we are able to build us line upon line and precept upon precept into something greater. It is using this framework that I have been able to make sense of the Lord taking Joseph Smith and some local superstition peepstones, and helping him progress beyond it to becoming a powerful and marvelous prophet. It is in this framework that I can start to understand the mortals who let their preconceptions about blacks lead to the ugly and long policy that it did in spite of feeling personally that they should have known better. As you yourself said John, look how far we have come, It is in this framework I can step back and take a look at my own perceptions of masons, Joseph Smith and rumor and suspend judgement until I can get a more informed dual perspective from someone such as John Kearney, It is with this framework that I can look at a tendency to judge Joseph harshly for the secrecy of how he initially began to practice polygamy and ask myself, what are my prejudices in this regard, Is polygamy always evil. Could there possibly be a plausible alternate explanation for these things. If I look at them with the assumption that the gospel is true and try to get their perspective on these things, suspending judgement, How does that change my picture of the situation. This is how I believe these crises are solved. Is this is simple minded? Is it whitewashed, apologetic? I don’t feel that way. I feel my mind and spirit have been greatly enlarged because of this approach, personally. I feel my understanding of the big picture continues to grow because it is in this framework I continue to study it. The Book of Mormon, the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the New Testament, and so many other writings, when really applied and understood teach us something radical, mind openning, and profound if we are open enough to look for it. Unfortunately, this is not universally applied or understood by fellow members around us. We can therefore, try to exemplify and discuss with others what we a re able to on their terms and I guess all we can do is all we can do. I absolutely believe dialogue and contnual searching for truth is the answer. You are the ultimate keeper of those axioms. I apologize for rambling on and on but I hope this writing is helpful to someone out there. Thanks

  24. FreeAtLast
    May 22, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    I’ve studied the psychology of Mormonism over the past 13 1/2 years, and talked with Latter-Day Saints who have attempted suicide. I was raised in the church, served a mission, and spent 10 years recovering from the wounding aspects of Mormonism. By age 12, I hated myself. The ‘dark’ psychological effects of Mormonism were significantly responsible for the self-loathing that I experienced.

    Mormon psychological conditioning has driven members to take their own lives. It ‘programs’ people, particularly those who are the sensitive type, to be at odds with themselves, to be self-estranged. It conditions people to split-off and repress aspects of their humanity that the LDS Church and religion and the Mormon community say cannot exist in order for the member to be ‘worthy’ and ‘pleasing to the Lord’. In a certain percentage of Mormons, the inner experience of self-estrangement intensifies over time, creating a feeling of self-dislike that eventually becomes self-hatred. Being raised in an LDS home in which there’s emotional, mental, physical, and/or sexual abuse exacerbates the problem greatly.

    Mormonism psychologically conditions people to believe and feel that they’re a mistake, mortal ‘creatures’ who are displeasing to God because of their innate human-ness. The LDS Church teaches:

    – The ‘natural’ man (or woman) is an ‘enemy of God';
    – ‘Sin’ makes a person ‘spiritually impure’ and ‘unworthy’ of living with ‘Heavenly Father’, Jesus, and ‘righteous’ Mormons after death;
    – Everyone older than eight commits ‘sins’.

    In Mormonism, to be ‘natural’ (i.e., to be fully human) is to be a person who is ultimately rejected by God. Approval from God (as defined by Mormonism) is conditional: Obey and you’re approved of and told that you’re ‘pleasing’ to ‘Heavenly Father’. Disobey and you’re told that you make God sad, and even angry. How often do LDS parents mindlessly tell their children this wounding ‘spiritual’ idea? LDS kids and youth learn very fast by personal experience and observation that to be approved of at home and in the LDS community, and to receive God’s approval (as they’ve been indoctrinated to believe), they have to be the type of person that Mormon authority figures such as parents, teachers, and church leaders have told them they must be. In Mormonism, compliance = approval and acceptance; disobedience = disapproval and rejection (often done through shaming and even shunning, as Grant Palmer has experienced in the wake of his church ‘court of love’).

    According to LDS doctrine, only by becoming a Mormon, overcoming the ‘natural man’ (woman), ‘spiritual purification’, and ‘perfect obedience’ can a person be judged as ‘worthy’ by God. The church teaches that every person who is “unclean before the judgment-seat of God” will be “cast off forever” because “no unclean thing can dwell with God”. The LDS Church defines what is ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. In Mormonism, dwelling on a sexual thought, or feeling some resentment toward the church because of its many demands makes you ‘unclean’. Staying home from church to relax and do some gardening is judged as ‘sinful’. According to church doctrine, all ‘sin’ makes you ‘unclean’ and ‘unworthy’.

    There is no room for being human when you’re constantly under the ‘Celestial’ microscope. Countless are the Latter-Day Saints who live in dread of making a mistake, of committing some ‘sin of omission’ or ‘commission’ that is displeasing to God (so they’ve been indoctrinated to believe). What about the TV program that they like to watch in which ‘the Lord’s name’ is occasionally taken ‘in vain’? Surely, such a program is not ‘wholesome’ and ‘uplifting’? According to Mormonism, God disapproves of members’ lack of faithfulness when they engage in ‘worldly’ activities. By watching the program and not turning it off, according to Mormon thinking, ‘Satan’ has appealed to their ‘worldly nature’ and gained a measure of power over them. How cunning are the ways in which the ‘Devil’ leads church members astray! If they were truly committed to ‘spiritually purifying’ themselves, they would not participate in ‘unclean’ activities and follow their ‘worldly nature’.

    So the Mormon thinking goes. The result is a lot of unnecessary guilt, mental self-flagellation, and wasted time. Many Latter-Day Saints mentally beat up on themselves for thinking, feeling, saying, and doing things that psychologically healthy, non-Mormons don’t give a second thought to or get stressed about. Is it any wonder that so many Mormons are perfectionists?

    Hellmut wrote “Jesus does not expect us to be perfect in everything.” LDS scriptures and the words of senior church leaders disagree with Hellmut. How many times in General Conference, stake conference, sacrament meetings, church classes, Ensign articles, etc. have Mormons been reminded that Jesus taught, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? The church has been clear: only by constantly striving to be ‘perfect’ can Latter-Day Saints hope to be found ‘worthy’ of ‘Exaltation’.

    Church members have killed themselves because of the intense inner pain of self-estrangement caused by Mormon psychological conditioning, and the negative influence of irrational, dysfunctional Latter-Day Saints in their lives. Such victims of the wounding LDS ‘spiritual’ belief system simply never had a chance to be human and unconditionally accept themselves just as they were. Eventually, the pain of their deeply wounded psyche was too much to bear, and suicide seemed like the only way to escape their hellish inner reality. Even in the seconds leading up to their final breath, the church’s teaching that people who commit suicide have committed a great ‘sin’ may have been a ‘tape’ running in their mind. Mental suffering to the very end. Such has been the power of Mormonism in people’s lives.

  25. annegb
    May 22, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    FreeatLast, I wonder if my son would have said some of the things you’ve said. I think so. A lot of the erroneous messages are just parents trying to do what they think is right.

    I have so many regrets. I did a complete 180 with my younger kids about church activity.

    I honestly think being a good person speaks for itself. I choose to remain active, but I’m not vested in it. I think God isn’t going to be near as hard on us as we are on each other.

    Thanks for sharing, and God bless you.

  26. FreeAtLast
    May 23, 2006 at 12:47 am

    Anne,

    You made a very good point. LDS parents do what they think is best for their children. They just don’t realize that there are unhealthy aspects to Mormonism. There are also good ‘parts’.

    You mentioned that you have “so many regrets”. Kindly bear in mind a couple of psychological truths: People act according to their level of awareness, and we gain awareness through experience. It’s the way of Life. It’s impossible to have acted yesterday with the awareness that we have today. Regret is the emotion that comes from thinking, “If only I had…” People reflect on past experiences with current awareness, and often pass negative judgments on themselves. It’s not fair to do so, really. Our inner peace is influenced by the thoughts we think and the judgments we pass on ourselves.

    I imagine that James’ death must have been emotionally very difficult for you and your family. Yet something about you kept you going despite the trauma you experienced. You changed things for the better for your younger children. I hope that you recognize the fact that you have great inner strength and are psychologically resilient.

    Personally, I do not believe in a God that judges or punishes people. I believe that all ‘souls’ return to the supreme source of love from whence they came. I do not believe that people who commit suicide spend eternity in some sort of lesser ‘kingdom’ or ‘outer darkness’. Love is the ultimate reality; some people call that love “God”. I believe that James went back to that love/God, and you will too.

  27. doc
    May 23, 2006 at 10:45 am

    Hellmutt,
    Thanks for your welcome, I understand your point. I guess I just differ on what can be done to fix it. I finbd it more reasonable to offer hope to those who are suffering from feelings of worthlessness from what I truly feel is a superficial understanding of their (and my) religion. I think much good can be done by helping educate wards, priesthood leaders, Our own home teaching families, or really anyone with whom we come in contact in these communities about the issues related to suicide. However, which is going to ultimately effect more change, the “Your religion is evil and the root cause of these deaths.” argument, or the argument that argues within the religion urge people to be more forgiving, less stigmatizing, less judgemental, and more open to offering help to others within the context of their belief.

  28. FreeAtLast
    May 25, 2006 at 4:25 am

    Posted on the Recovery from Mormonism bulletin board yesterday evening:

    Subject: Local teen suicide, you guessed it…..
    Date: May 24 22:14
    Author: ThinkingM@n

    he was Mormon.

    Several weeks ago I forwarded that Deseret News Article on Utah’s highest teen suicide rate to my TBM Step-Daughter-in-Law (I thought I had a good enough relationship to do that). I tried to suggest that if they were determined to raise their kids in the LDS Church, they should be aware of the stress associated with it for the kids. I was thinking they could maybe give some thought to how to teach them in such a way to aleviate some of the stress.

    As you can imagine, that went over like a lead baloon and caused a LOT of discontent. Everyone was offended, defensive and ridiculous. It was probably the last straw for my efforts to keep my TBM wife and step-family (Step-son, his wife and two kids). I finally gave up. I don’t really care to watch more kids grow up Mormon.

    Now, last week a local 14 yr old LDS boy hung himself. I know none of the details or what his problems were, but it is such a waste and so sad.

  29. annegb
    May 25, 2006 at 7:01 am

    What’s TBM?

    Free at last, wise words. I say, “when I knew better, I did better.” That’s probably true of most of us.

    I, too, feel that God is less punitive than we would ever realize, especially as Mormons.

    I think a lot of the problem is that we are so task oriented, we neglect the truly “good news” of our gospel. It’s almost heretical to get up in church and say “we’re all probably going to make it” but I do.

    My e-mail is gardnera@netutah.com. I’d like to send that family a copy of our book. There is a story of a 14 year old boy in there.

    I could send it to you and maybe you could give it to their bishop. There’s nothing objectionable in it.

  30. Doc
    May 25, 2006 at 8:44 am

    Good for you Anne. The purpose of the church is to save us in spite of ourselves. I truly believe You have a higher (dare I say Celestial?), not heretical understanding of the gospel in that sense. Moreso because you are able to see the shortcomings of the church is due to Humanity, not necessarily divinity. I really believe that this is entirely the point of why we are here. If everyone just grew up understanding it without any pain, trial, questioning, frustration, I also believe this level understanding simply cannot be reached.

  31. JonBoy
    June 6, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    Sorry this is a bit wordy….

    Interesting discussion. I think everyone has made some great comments. I felt the need to chime in even though this discussion appears to be a dead one. I was raised Morman in Idaho by a Father, very strong in the church, and a mother, who was raised morman and was no longer Morman. They were devorced when I was 1 so I never knew them together and I appreciate having the contrasting parenting models growing up.

    I always had to go to church but spent half the week with my mother. She always supported me in anything I wanted to believe and allowed me to discuss my thoughts and beliefs with her. The one thing that sticks with me the most to this day is what my Mom told me when I was getting very serious about the Morman church. I was having some strong objections to the pride and judgement that was very common in my ward. My mom told me that if I wanted to be Mormon I should consider moving to another state. She stated that the Mormons in Idaho and Utah were not the same as those outside of those two states. In my journeys since then I have found this to be very true.

    This difference is what I also believe is causing the suicide rates to be so high. What is happening is the percentage of LDS members in those areas is high enough that it has created a sub culture. This is not a culture the church created this is a culture that is a result of pride. Figure out how to raise your kids without pride and judgement and you will solve the suicide problem. It is not the church that is causing these kids to kill themselves it is the social life they have at church. It is peer pressure, lack of acceptance and general ignorance of their social groups.

    There are two things that happened with my church going friends in Idaho. The first is that they were very ignorant to the world around them. There is a high enough percentage of mormons that it was very easy to raise a child and never even see people from differnt lifestyles. This led to the ability to ignore and never talk about things such as homosexuality. Homosexuality did not exist it was something sinners did and it did not exist in my community. At least that is how my friends saw it. This ignorance is damaging and is what leads to the silence in the church that was mentioned in earlier posts.

    Now take the ignorance and add one of the greatest sins of all, in my oppinion, that is pride. One of the presidents of the church (benson maybe) stated in a message to seminary classes that pride is enmity. I believe that to be true. If pride is enmity, a hatred such as might be felt for an enemy, then pride is the opposite of love. Jesus came for two reasons and it seems we forget the second one. He died for our sins and he brought us the higher law. The law of love. You would think that if Christianity spent more time teaching about love and less time on the rules and regulations then we would not need the rules and regulations.

    It is the pride that occurs around the rules and regulations that is causing these kids to kill themselves. Lets replace pride with hatred think about this again. It is the hatred for those who do not live the rules and regulations that is casting these children out. The church does not teach this hatred it actually condemns it but it is still there. This hatred is why I am not mormon.

    If you want to stop these types of problems you have to chase pride out of your church. I might even come back if you did. If you are afraid that this problems are affecting your children then maybe raise them in another state where the LDS church does not have enough of a foothold to have the pride issue.

    This appears to be a text version of the message about pride I am recalling from my youth. http://www.zionsbest.com/pride.html

  32. annegb
    June 6, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    Good thoughts, Jon Boy. I think you’re right.

  33. Doc
    June 8, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    JonBoy,
    From one native Idahoan to another, having lived a good while in and out of the environment, I think you are dead on. It is fascinating to me that this warning comes from a prophetic source, showing me there are and always have been people at the top trying to let us know what the great stumbling block and danger is we face as a people. Pride is just a very, very sneaky thing. It blinds you to its existence. I think love, forgiveness, and teaching others in respect and humility are probably the only way to fight this tendency. President Benson gave this talk when I left on a mission and it has been burned into my soul ever since then. It is so profound. My understanding of it has deepened with time. When I try to imagine a world without pride I think I start to get an inkling ot the fantastic and glorious nature of life in the Celestial Kingdom. Can you imagine?
    thanks.

  34. July 3, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    It’s sad to see this sort of a page. It’s pure propaganda, and COMPLETELY misses the point of the Church position on suicide.
    I’m the child of a GA, I am the parent of a child that took his own life. I think in the last 8 years I’ve read, watched, and experienced everything that any authority in the Church has to offer on this subject. Bruce McConkie be damned, he has no intelligence whatsoever. Blood atonement and suicide are tightly tied together in the view of the Church. Check it out, I did.
    Additionally, you miss the point of WHO is committing suicide in the LDS faith. Most are young men, ages 14-19. With everyone from the poorest of the poor to the most elite, it’s simply astounding to me that Utah has no LDS suicide prevention program, that Utah has by far the highest level of depression, and Utah has by far the fewest resources to cope, identify, and exist with depression.
    Additionally, I sat on a plane with Elder Monson recently, and asked him questions about the death of my son from his view as a General Authority.
    He had no answers. He had no place to point me other than the scriptures. I don’t want to look to the same resource as McConkie did when he made his horrific, absolutist, and exclusionary statement that falls opposite the official statements of the Church.
    All that said, I was sickened to death when I received a power point on suicide from another GA that contained cartoons and humorous references to suicide. I was later informed that it was supposed to be a “talk on avoiding and understanding suicide, not grief counseling.”
    Oh yeah…the Church has no grief counseling information for victims of suicide.
    After being a member of the Church for nearly 50 years, I walked out of my meeting with my bishop, and will likely never return again.
    That bishop, in his own unknowing, uneducated way, partially led my son to his demise by telling him that masturbation (at age 14) would prevent him from entering the kingdom of heaven and he’d be damned forever.”
    My son would have been better off lying about his actions so he could have been ordained a Teacher just like damn near every other young boy I’ve ever known.
    “Seek ye perfection in all that ye do” is the quote, but what our kids hear is “If you’re not worthy, you’d be better off dead.” Just look at the quotes from SO many parents of missionaries who have died in the mission field. “I’d rather my son come home in a coffin than a dishonorable mission,” or “I’d rather my daughter kill herself than become pregnant outside of wedlock.”
    Easy to say, until you lose your child. Being cavalier ends pretty damn fast.

  35. annegb
    July 5, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Sad to read: I’ve done some research as well and have been instrumental in the publication of a book on suicide geared for Mormons called, “Where is Our Hope for Peace.” I would be glad to send you a copy. gardnera@netutah.com Greg Olsen did the cover art.

    I don’t see this post as propaganda, I’ve read a lot of wisdom here. I’m not sure exactly where you’re coming from, if you are criticizing the posters here or the church or the general authorities. I can tell you that the church offers little comfort to the survivors of a suicide, because I looked and looked after my son shot himself.

    James died 15 years ago. It’s only been the last year and a half that I’ve been able to have any kind of–positive isn’t the right word–perhaps, peace about it. Acceptance.

    I want to help you, I want to hear you, I know I can validate you.

  36. Melissa Larsen
    July 5, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    Just to through in my experience with depression, I’d like to say that although I was raised in the church, my family was far from loving. that is not the church’s fault. It is simply the long line of dysfunctionality I come from. My father didn’t know how to love and I ended up feeling unloveable. At 18, I was suicidal without anyone to turn to about my desparate feelings. This was not due to mormonism. this was due to people not wanting to face reality. I did, however, get through on pure faith in God and prayer, without which I maight not be here today. A lot of comments focus on the church contrubuting to depression. Am I the only one who found God helpful in dark times? I did later get counseling to really pull out of it, and I probably will again. But I just wanted to recognize that without the church suicide may have been my only option. ML

  37. annegb
    July 6, 2006 at 12:24 am

    Melissa, it’s wonderful that you were able to hold on that way. I’m really sorry your family was like that. I’ve had my own “God things” that have pulled me through tough times.

    Sometimes they come through the church; more often, they don’t. I don’t necessarily blame the church for that. I was abused and find it difficult to conceptualize a loving God. I keep searching and catch glimpses sometimes.

    In my son’s case, I used the church as a tool to repress and control him. Hindsight is 20-20 and when I knew better, I did better.

    I firmly believe that whatever leads us to God is a good thing, in the LDS Church or without.

  38. FreeAtLast
    July 6, 2006 at 9:03 am

    Melissa Laren posted, “I did, however, get through on pure faith in God and prayer, without which I maight not be here today. A lot of comments focus on the church contrubuting to depression. Am I the only one who found God helpful in dark times?”

    It’s common for Mormons to interpret a greater inner strength that they’d previously been unaware of which strengthens them through difficult times as the ‘God’ of Mormonism ‘sustaining’ them. There is no God independent of thought and belief, and yes, there is a ‘divine’ source of consciousness, lifeforce, love, and creation.

    I have an ex-Mormon friend who, when she was semi-active in the church, became very depressed due to frequent migraine headaches. She suffered terribly, shut away in her darkened apartment (light intensified the pain), missed many days of work, and her family doctor and specialists were unable to heal her.

    With no end to her painful existence in sight, she decided to kill herself, and went to a forest with a handgun to shoot herself. She sat down on a log with the loaded weapon and was overcome with despair. According to what she later told me, as she raised the gun toward her head, it suddenly became so hot that she dropped it. In the next moment, a thought/voice came into her mind that it wouldn’t be right for her to take her life, and she suddenly felt a spiritual feeling that things would be OK. She left the forest resolved to endure whatever would happen.

    Some months later, as the result of a harmless mistake of a medical technician, the source of her medical problem was identified and she underwent surgery, after which she never had another migraine.

    Many Latter-Day Saints believe that God provides comfort and strength only to the ‘faithful’. After all, the church teaches that blessings are predicated upon obedience to God’s commandments (as defined by Mormonism, to a significant extent) and church teachings. In my own experience and that of ex-Mormons and never-Mormons I know, a source of ‘higher power’, if you will, is available to any person. I’ve known people with lifestyles that many Mormons would negatively judge who’ve had experiences that could easily be described as miraculous.

    Compliance with a bunch of rules that came from the minds of human beings has no correlation with receiving strength from the ‘Higher Power’ during difficult times unless a person is convinced that such a correlation exists. Having experienced 25 years of systematic indoctrination in Mormonism (and been thoroughly psychologically conditioned by it), and deprogrammed myself from its unhealthy aspects (there are many) during the last 14 years, I can assure you that ‘God’ (a label that humans have created in an attempt to explain the ‘divine’ source of consciousness, love, and life, a source that is ultimately mysterious) is far, far more than the concept of God that exists in the LDS Church.

    My last point is that ultimately, there is no saviour coming to our rescue. We have to be our own saviour and empower ourselves by taking action. The beginning of our self-empowerment journey may be a prayer to the version of God that we currently believe in to help us because we’re in a crisis (of our own making, perhaps, and perhaps not), but the empowerment process does not end there.

    If we are wounded (e.g., emotionally, psychologically), then to become whole, we must do what mental health professionals call our legitimate suffering work. Many religious people believe that God will take take away their pain, when in fact, the only way to holistically resolve their suffering is to work through it, which involves increased self-awareness. All self-healing and personal growth comes as the result of increased self-awareness.

    If our psychic or emotional wounds are deep and terrible, we may suffer a great deal during our healing process, but we come out the other side knowing from experience what we’re able to endure. We also know the unique way(s) in which ‘God’ helped us.

  39. Ellen
    April 25, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Hi, I just wanted to say that I agree with you. I too am Mormon, I grew up in Idaho, but moved to Sugar House when I was in 9th grade. It has been heartbreaking and hard to attend high school here, but going to school in Holladay has really opened my eyes to suicide and esp. suicide in Utah. It feels like anyone against or not normal is immediately shunned and it’s so frustrating. I realize Idaho is not the most liberal place you can live, but I think it’s ridiculous how ostracized people can be when you’re not normal. I think it’s even more frustrating to tell people that it’s NOT the CHURCH doing this, or teaching this, but the PEOPLE in it. Thank You soo much for having things that you DO and DO NOT agree with in the church. I too feel the same way and although my dad doesn’t mean to, he makes me feel like I MUST believe/listen/DO all I am told and I simply WONT, but thank you for your strength..
    P.S. will you email me your talks, I can’t get them through this website. THANK YOU!

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