February 8, 2021
“I felt broken,” one BYU-Pathway Worldwide student said, after being unexpectedly diagnosed with depressive-anxiety disorder — a diagnosis that came just one week before author Jane Clayson Johnson’s historic devotional in December 2019.1 Her message, which focused on depression and mental illness, remains one of the most-watched BYU-Pathway devotionals of all time.
“My family knew the diagnosis, but I felt too ashamed to let anyone else know,” the student continued. “After listening to [Jane’s] story, I felt I should open up and not be afraid. My hope is that maybe I can help remove the stigma of depression.”
Jane’s poignant and personal message is changing the conversation about mental health — something that affects so many but is talked about so little.
Break the silence
The first step toward eliminating the stigma that often surrounds mental health is speaking up! No one understands this better than Jane herself, who personally dealt with depression and interviewed over 150 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of all ages about their experiences with depression. Jane’s own story and insights from these interviews are compiled in her book Silent Souls Weeping.
“In the midst of my anguish, I had come to believe that I was alone in my suffering,” Jane said. “… I realized that there are millions of others who also battle depression. Many of them, like me, suffer in silence. If you are suffering, talking helps.”
BYU-Pathway provides mentors for first-semester students to help them continue through academic and personal challenges. Alison Cundiff, who oversees BYU-Pathway’s mentoring program, said, “Many of our students have mental health concerns, especially during this difficult year of 2020. We are always grateful when a student trusts a mentor enough to tell them about their struggles. Just talking through it with a neutral party might help a student get through another day or week and persist.”
Another BYU-Pathway student said, “We are all children of Heavenly Father and He loves us, even in our darkest abyss. Your feelings are real, and sharing them, as hard as it might be at first, helps to free yourself.”
In addition to confiding in others, seeking professional help is often an important part of healing. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in his general conference message about mental health, “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.”2
Stop the stigma
While traveling in India, Jane and her family had the opportunity to meet a group of people suffering from leprosy. She, her husband, and two children applied healing oil to their limbs.
Reflecting on similar experiences the Savior had, she said, “Jesus didn’t heal [lepers] by avoiding them. He waded right into the mess — with His help and with His hope. Leprosy is a disease that cannot be hidden — people are literally, physically falling apart. Mental health needs to be like that; it needs to be dragged into the light of day where we can see that people are sometimes falling apart and where those who are willing to wade in and help can do so.”
Those who do not suffer from mental illness can “wade in and help” by being compassionate and providing a safe space. Those who do struggle with mental illness always have the love and healing power of Jesus Christ available to them — even if they struggle to feel it. From her research and personal experience, Jane observed that depression can heavily impact a person’s ability to feel the Spirit. This is a direct result of the illness, not any personal flaw or failure — and it isn’t permanent. With time and treatment, feelings of love and peace can return. There is always hope.
BYU-Pathway mentors help students find hope by reminding them of their identity. Alison said, “Our most powerful tool as mentors is to reinforce the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and instill confidence in students’ divine potential as children of God.”
Share personal stories
Jane’s message has inspired countless BYU-Pathway students and others to open up about their own mental health experiences. Her devotional has been viewed or engaged with over 85,000 times on social media.
Jane’s invitation to all is to “learn all you can about mental illness. Speak out against the stigma. Share your own stories. And keep going! Remember, you have support.”
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