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Mental Illness:
By Jan Underwood Pinborough

Many struggle alone with illnesses. We can

express love and interest, withhold judgment,
and increase our acceptance of them.

Scott Hausey* was the kind of young man who makes parenting seem
easy. He was responsible and religiousan A student who did his
homework without being prodded. He enjoyed camping with his parents
and six brothers and sisters and planned to be a doctor. Admiring
people in his ward would tell Brother and Sister Hausey, I hope my son
will grow up to be like Scott.

Then, about a year into his mission for the Church, Scott became a icted
with a devastating illness. It attacked not his body, but his mind
disordering his thoughts and agitating him so much that he could not
nish his mission.

Scott began to hear strange voices in his head, voices no one else could
hear. He couldnt nish his sentences. At times, he would pace for hours
or simply sit in his room and rock. I cant describe our emotions when
we saw Scott like that, recalls his father. We thought wed failed as
parents, but we didnt know how.

Scott had a number of counseling sessions and earnestly prayed for the
Lord to heal him. Nothing seemed to help. Perhaps, some reasoned, he
was possessed by an evil spirit. But Scott was not possessed. He had a
serious mental disorder called schizophrenia.

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On a family vacation the year after he came home from his mission,
Scott became violent and kicked his mother. The family called the police
for help in calming him. Then Don Hausey called the local stake
president for spiritual help. Fifteen years later, Brother Hausey still
becomes emotional when he describes the miracle that phone call
brought about.

The stake president listened to our situation and said, Theres a

member of our high council who may be able to help your son. The high
councilor was a doctor who recognized Scotts problem and knew of a
treatment that could help. With the medicine the doctor prescribed,
Scott improved so signi cantly that his strange behavior disappeared.

The road since then has not been easy for Scott or his family. For years,
Scott refused to believe that he needed the medicine, and he had
periodic breaks that resulted in hospitalization. For a while, Scott
wondered every day if this would be the day he would take his life.

But today, at thirty- ve, Scott has a wife and beautiful baby daughter who
give him a reason to stay on the medicine that keeps his illness under
control, much as insulin controls diabetes. For several months now, with
proper medication and supportive therapy, Scott has kept a full-time job
and has led a relatively stable life. Scott is not cured, but with his
symptoms under control, life looks brighter for him than it has for many

In Any Family
How many people in your ward are su ering from some form of mental
illness? One? Two? None? Chances are good that your estimate is too

A major study by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that as

many as 20 percent of adult Americans su er from a disabling mental
disorder. The most serious and chronic of these disorders

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schizophrenia, manic-depression, and chronic major depressionoften

require hospitalization and medication. In fact, serious mental disorders
ll more hospital beds in the United States than cancer, heart disease,
diabetes, and arthritis combined. But milder forms of clinical depression
and severe anxiety can also disrupt individual and family lives and
require professional treatment. (See How Many Are Su ering? p. 53.)

Many of us dont realize how widespread mental illness is, partly because
it shows few physical signs. Victims of mental illness, for the most part,
look normal, explains the mother of a young woman who has been in
and out of hospitals with depression. They dont limp or stutter. The
scars are on the inside. But many victims feel pain and confusion so
great that life is almost unbearable. And family members of the victim
often su er grief and isolation as they struggle to understand the nature
of their loved ones illness and search for ways to help.

Multiple Causes
Chronic mental illness can happen in any family, says Tom Baxter,
special assistant to the director of LDS Social Services. Church members
sometimes feel that if only they had lived the gospel better, these
problems would not exist. But this is not always the case, he says. We
now know that mental illnesses have multiple causes, including genetic
and biological factorsfactors we usually cannot control.

Other factors, such as abuse, trauma, stress, unresolved con ict, or

excessive guilt, can also contribute to or cause the development of some
types of mental illness. Serious family problems may also contribute to
the development of mental disorders. Current research suggests that
many victims of mental illness have genetically inherited a biological
predisposition for their illnessalthough not everyone who is
predisposed will develop that disorder. Dr. Richard Ferre, chairman of
the Department of Psychiatry at Primary Childrens Hospital in Salt Lake
City, says, Essentially every major mental illnesswhether it be

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schizophrenia, major depression, autism, or attention de cit disorder

has biological underpinnings.

This is not to say that we have no responsibility for our mental health. Sin
our own and that of othersdoes cause emotional pain. And if we are
unable to forgive ourselves or someone else, or if we constantly dwell on
our failures, disappointments, or past problems, we may be more likely
to su er emotional stress. We may also feel unnecessary distress if we
constantly try to please others or if we try to meet unrealistic
expectations of how attractive or successful we ought to be.

But there is a di erence between ordinary discouragement or the

sorrow created by sin and the problems resulting from mental illness.
Indeed, many serious mental illnesses are just thatgenuine illnesses
that need to be treated as such.

Hope and Help Are Available

We live in a time when victims of many mental disorders can nd helpful
treatments. Unfortunately, many individuals and families struggle alone
with illnesses that can be treated. It isnt a sign of weakness to get the
help you need, says Dorthea C. Murdock of LDS Social Services. It is a
sign of strength to say, I have a problem and I need help. Hope and help
are available.

The key to that hope is understanding. For the victim of mental illness,
hope lies in being properly diagnosed and treatedthe sooner the
better. And for family members of the mentally ill, help comes best from
those who understand the illness.

In this context, then, what are these severe disabling illnesses? How can
they a ect us and our families?

Surviving Schizophrenia

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The illness that caused the sudden change in Scott Hausey is called
schizophrenia. Of all mental illnesses, it is no doubt the most feared and
the least understood. It strikes about 1 percent of the worlds population;
in the average ward, it is possible that several people have
schizophrenia. Most often, it strikes young people in the prime of life,
between the ages of seventeen and twenty- ve, with no regard for
religion, race, socio-economic level, intelligence, or personal virtue.

Schizophrenia is not a split personality disorder, as is commonly

thought. Instead, it causes the victim to feel split from reality. And it
apparently does not result entirely from psychological factorssuch as
inadequate bonding with the motheras was once commonly believed.
By studying adopted children, researchers have found that the incidence
of schizophrenia is clearly linked to the biological parents, not to the
adoptive parents who reared the child. Extensive psychoanalysis and
family therapy have proved not to be as e ective in treating it as a
combination of medication and supportive therapy.

Scientists do not know exactly what causes schizophrenia. But the

chemical systems that regulate nerve impulses in the brain appear to be

Whatever the exact cause, the manifestations of schizophrenia are

alarming and sometimes bizarre. The sight and hearing of victims may
become overly acute. They may not be able to carry on a conversation,
for example, because the hum of tra c outsidea sound the brain
would normally lter outis almost deafening to them. They may hear
the lawn mower or other inanimate objects talking to them. And they
may think they are a famous person or have some special knowledge.
Often these delusions have religious themes.

People with schizophrenia are no more likely to be mentally retarded

than anyone else; in fact, some of them have superior intelligence. They
are often painfully aware of the fact that people who were once their
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friends now avoid them, that family members may even be ashamed of

Unfortunately, not all victims of schizophrenia can be as successfully

treated as Scott Hausey. Even with appropriate medication and
treatment, as many as 25 or 30 percent are not able to function even
marginally well. Prompt treatment is vital.

When Troy Keach began withdrawing from family and friends and
resisting Church activity, his parents thought it was just a teenage phase.
Then Troy began hearing the television communicating with him, and his
grades plummeted from A to Z, his mother recalls. When he reported a
bad experience taking drugs, we realized we needed professional help.
Teenagers who are struggling with early symptoms of mental illness may
be more vulnerable to drug abuse than their peers. On the other hand,
sometimes parents of mentally ill teenagers who are not using drugs
mistakenly attribute their childrens strange behavior to drug abuse.

Joan Keach remembers the early years of Troys illness as devastating

for herself, as she searched her memory for how she could have caused
Troys problem, and for Troy. Today, her son remains bitterly unhappy.
He lives in his own apartment, totally isolated from everyone except
family. Every day he is tormented by the cruel, hostile voices in his head.

The heartache that Troys parents feel for him never completely goes
away. They have remained close to loving neighbors and ward members,
even though others are not always comfortable talking to them about
mental illness. In the past several years, Brother and Sister Keach have
made presentations in Relief Society and other classes to help inform
people about schizophrenia and chronic mental illness. After one
presentation, Brother Keach received several phone calls from ward
members who made comments like That sounds just like my grandson.
Will you please talk to his parents?

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Dealing with Severe Depression

Depression is not just ordinary discouragement. But at one time or
another, almost everyone has a small taste of what depression is like.
After a major loss, such as the death of a loved one, you may temporarily
lose your appetite, have di culty sleeping, and nd it hard to anticipate
anything good happening in the future. This is a normal reaction to grief,
and after a short time, you return to normal life.

But if these symptoms continue relentlessly week after week, the normal
grief reaction may become clinical depression. If you are depressed, life
seems at and joyless, and its ordinary demands seem overwhelming.
You may feel unable to get out of bed. You may even wish you could die
rather than continue on in such misery. If you are like many people, you
feel guilty for your inability to snap out of it, and so you try to wait it out
rather than seek professional help.

This is unfortunate because depression is probably the most treatable of

all mental illnesses. Perhaps 90 percent of depression victims can be
helped. Therapy that teaches the patient to modify negative thought
patterns to change his emotions is very helpful. Antidepressant
medications are also quite e ective. Priesthood blessings and prayer
can lend spiritual power and aid healing.

Untreated, a depressive episode usually lasts between four months and

a year. But dont wait for a spontaneous recovery. While you wait, you
may lose a job or damage a marriage. You and those who love you will
su er needlessly, and there is also the danger that without professional
help the depression will become chronic.

Trying to wait out a severe chronic depression can even be fatal. Doctors
estimate that as many as 15 percent of major depression victims take
their own lives. (Dimitri F. and Janice Papolos, Overcoming Depression,
New York: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 12.) Tragically and ironically, people
with depression often make suicide plans just as their depression is
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liftingwhen they are getting a little more energy but do not yet realize
that they will ever feel better.

Super cially, depression may look like a crisis of faith, says Dr. Brent
Petersen, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating families and children.
But it is not. Just telling someone in this condition to toughen up is not
usually helpful. Depression usually has multiple causes, including
biological ones. In the depressed person, the brains delicate
neurochemical balance has been disrupted. Recent studies indicate that,
as with schizophrenia, a predisposition for some kinds of depression is
probably inherited genetically. When this predisposition converges with a
traumatic situation, a stressful life-style, or emotional con ict, depression
can result.

Friends and acquaintances may feel frustrated when they try to cheer
and reassure a loved one su ering from severe depression. Often the
person is too fatigued and irritable to respond positively to such
attention, and isolation and guilt increase on both sides. But a loving
friend or priesthood leader who is willing to simply listen can be a lifeline.
I will always be grateful for a sister in my ward who was willing to listen
to me during my depression, says one woman. She had also been
through a depression, and she could reassure me from her own
experience that the terrible blankness and hopelessness I felt inside
would pass. Often the only way I could feel Gods love for me was
through her compassionate, understanding friendship.

Dr. Petersen, himself a bishop, recalls a bishop who complained to him

that life shouldnt be as di cult and full of disappointment as he was
nding it. After being diagnosed and treated for clinical depression, the
mans perspective made a radical change for the better.

In some cases, medication may be needed. Exercise can also help

alleviate depression. So can changing negative thinking patterns and
exercising faith and love. Sometimes stresses created by longstanding
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emotional con icts can trigger clinical depression. In many cases,

resolving those con icts early may help a person prevent a major

Im grateful I was guided to a counselor who helped me understand how

to apply some critical principlesforgiving others and developing trust,
says a sister looking back at a painful period in her life. As I learned what
was causing the con icts in my heart, I discovered how to let go. Through
the long, discouraging process, the witness of the Spirit gave me hope
that the day would come when I would feel my share of happiness and

Children, as well as adults, can be a icted by severe depression and

other mental disorders. Dr. Richard Ferre of Primary Childrens Hospital
in Salt Lake City tells of a ten-year-old boy who became profoundly
depressed in the years following his mothers death. When his father
began to date again, the child withdrew, lost weight, and began having
trouble in school. Dr. Ferre found that there was a strong history of
depression on the mothers side of the family. He taught the family how
to help the child feel secure in his new family situation. He also
prescribed an antidepressant medication for the child. The child
eventually recovered.

Parents need to know that children who are clinically depressed are not
usually able to identify their problem. Usually they begin to do poorly in
school, become rebellious, or use drugs or alcohol. (See Warning Signals
of Mental Illness, p. 54.)

Major depression is just one form of what doctors call major a ective or
mood disorders. Another serious form is manic-depression or bipolar
disorder. The person with this illness may have periods of paralyzing
fatigue, alternating with spells of agitated euphoria. In the manic phase,
victims may have rushes of ideas and in ated pictures of their own
abilities. In this phase, the victims may spend large amounts of money
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they dont have and make unrealistic personal and business decisions. At
the height of this phase, they may su er a complete break from reality
that resembles schizophrenia.

An estimated 25 percent of people with manic-depression commit

suicide. Those who are di cult to treat spend much of their lives in the
hospital. But doctors can prescribe a medication that can help control
both the mania and the depressive symptoms.

Purely physical problems that can induce depression symptoms include

hypothyroidism, diabetes, hypoglycemia, stroke, iron de ciency anemia,
and temporal lobe epilepsy. For depression, as for all mental disorders,
the key to hope lies in accurately understanding the nature of the
problem and getting appropriate treatment.

Anxiety Disorders: The Most Common

Libby Salk was sitting in a restaurant with family and friends when,
without warning, she felt a dull pain in her head. Suddenly, she became
dizzy, and her heart began racing. I felt sure I was going to pass out, she
recalls, and thought I must be having a heart attack or some kind of
seizure. When she stood up, explaining that she thought she needed to
go to a hospital, her legs almost gave way and her arms grew numb.
Terri ed, she wondered if she were going to die.

Libby was not in any danger of dying; she was experiencing her rst
panic attack. The attacks recurred over the next several months as Libby
went to doctor after doctor, looking for an explanation for her problem.
She became frightened of being in a place where she could not get help
if she had another attack. Sitting in church or in a crowded theater
became extremely stressful.

Even when she was not having a full-blown attack, Libby felt more and
more anxious, sometimes even disoriented. She had trouble
concentrating at work and found herself forgetting common words and

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familiar names. Over the next two years, she experienced a variety of
physical complaintsfrom severe headaches to di culty in swallowing.
Occasionally, her heart would suddenly start racing in the middle of the
night, waking her from a sound sleep.

One particularly bad night, I called a dear friend from my ward, recalls
Libby. I couldnt explain what was wrong with me, but she sat with me
through a long night when the feelings of fear and impending doom
were almost more than I could bear.

After several months of praying and searching for help, Libby was
amazed to learn that a new member of the bishopric of her ward was a
doctor specializing in the relationship between the mind and body. I
described my problem to him and asked for help, recalls Libby. That day
he gave me a priesthood blessing that completely relieved my symptoms
for several hours. This was a great comfort and gave me hope as I then
followed the treatment that brought more permanent relief.

Libby su ers from a panic disorderone of several anxiety disorders

that, together, a ect 15 percent of the United States population. In some
cases, panic disorder leads to phobias, as victims develop paralyzing
fears of situations and things associated with past panic attacks. One
woman had her rst panic attack in the grocery store and in the car on
her way home. The next day at church she had another. In a matter of
weeks, she became terri ed of leaving the safety of her home, where she
could recover from an attack without embarrassment or danger. This
disabling fear of leaving home, called agoraphobia, is extremely
disruptive. People with agoraphobia can become unable to go shopping,
keep jobs, or participate in church activities. The e ect on the family can
be enormous. Other common phobias include the fear of ying in
airplanes and the fear of driving.

Some people do not have full-blown panic attacks or phobias, but su er

from a constantly high level of generalized or free- oating anxiety.
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Researchers have found that anxiety disorders often involve a biological

predisposition. When Libby Salk tried to describe her experience to her
father, he confessed that he had had similar attacks since young
adulthood, attacks that he had tried to deal with by drinking. As with
other mental disorders, however, being biologically predisposed to an
anxiety disorder does not mean that a person will necessarily develop
that disorder.

For many, anxiety disorder may be triggered by a stressful or traumatic

event. Looking back, says Libby, I realize that I was living under an
extremely high level of stress at the time of my rst panic attack. For
some months I had been worrying intensively over some di cult
personal and family circumstances.

Fortunately, help is available for anxiety disorders. Several medications

are quite helpful in treating panic attacks and ee- oating anxiety.
Behavior therapy can be quite e ective in maintaining lasting changes
and in dealing with speci c phobias. Says Libby Salk, I think if I had been
wiser about not worrying so much and had been more willing to trust
that the Lord was aware of and would help me and my family, I might not
have felt the severe stress that seemed to trigger my problem.

Some Burdens of the Mentally Ill and Their Families

Only by understanding the struggles of those dealing with mental illness
can we respond sensitively and helpfully. What are some of these

Denial. Mental illness is di cult to accept. People will often entertain

any explanation for unusual behavior rather than accept that a loved
one is mentally ill. Sometimes the denial is so strong that a person will
consider divorce or leaving the family before accepting the reality that
a member of the family has a mental disorder. In this stage of denial,
the family would not appreciate inquiries about the victims mental
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Guilt. One mother whose son has schizophrenia recalls, I spent the
rst year of my sons illness searching for memories of what I could
have done to cause my sons problem. It is never helpful, and usually
not true, to say or imply that a child is mentally ill because his parents
didnt raise him properly.

Grief. For the parent of the severely mentally ill, there is a feeling of
griefof having lost the child whose future looked so promising. For
the victim, there can be grief over lost jobs, lost friends, lost prospects.

Isolationfor both the family and the victim. People dont know what to
say to us, so they dont say anything, says one father. Another tells
how his schizophrenic son cries because his younger brother,
embarrassed to be seen with him, will not take him to a hockey game.

The victim of serious mental illness may also feel estranged from God.
One man with schizophrenia says, Every time I pray Thy will be done,
my su ering seems to worsen. This has caused me grievous
di culties in understanding the will and purposes of my Heavenly

Family and marital di culties. Harold and Margaret Terney tell how
their marriage almost ended because Margaret would tell others
about their childs problem at a time when Harold was still denying
that there was a problem. Most parents agree that the issue of how to
treat a mentally ill child is the most divisive element in their marriage.
Even strong marriages sometimes need outside help to survive the

Siblings may not understand the illness of a brother or sister. They

may resent the attention he or she receives and the inconvenience
and shame they feel. Sometimes they feel their brother or sister is
lazy or just manipulating their parents. Often, the a icted child is

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extremely manipulative, but this is not the primary problem. Educating

siblings can reduce resentment.

Many families have found that support groups and supportive therapy
can be most helpful. (See For Information and Support, p. 57.)

Times of crisis. Perhaps most di cult of all can be trying to get help for
someone in the midst of a psychotic break. Sometimes the police
have to be called. Parents must sometimes testify in court to have
their children committed to hospitals for help. Trying to nd housing
for an ill adult child can be a genuine crisis.

How Can Others Help?

Express love and interest to both the victim and the family. Remember
that they are people with ordinary human feelings. Very few mentally
ill people are violent; properly treated, most are not. In fact, they are
usually withdrawn and inclined to harm themselves rather than
others. The father of a young man with schizophrenia expresses
gratitude that the elders quorum presidency in his ward recently
stopped by and spent an hour talking to his son. The son was
overjoyed when the elders quorum president, a busy father, invited
him over for dinner. These caring expressions meant all the more
because the young man has so few other relationships.

Be willing to listen to family members of the mentally ill express their

feelings. Its great to take a meal over, says Dr. Richard Ferre, but
that avoids the problem of having to deal with someone elses pain.

Withhold judgment and increase acceptance. If a family doesnt show up

for a church activity, be understanding. If a child behaves
inappropriately in church, welcome that child anyway. Its important
to realize that each person has his own time, his own moment, his
own struggle, says Sister Dorthea Murdock. No one is immune to
serious problems, including mental illness.
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Give needed help. By really listening, you can learn what the true needs
of a family are. Maybe a family needs someone to watch the other
children while they take an ill child to the hospital in the middle of the
night. In one ward, Relief Society sisters took turns taking a mother
who could not drive and her mentally ill child to weekly doctor

If you suspect that a close friend or family member may be su ering

from some form of mental illness, consider how you could encourage
that person to get prompt professional and spiritual help. The bishop can
refer members of his ward to LDS Social Services practitioners or to
community resources for evaluation. Family physicians can also make
referrals. Most communities have competent mental health
professionalsincluding psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and social
workerswho can give help within the framework of Latter-day Saint

Understanding Mortality
As we deal with mental illness, it is crucial to understand the nature of
mortality. All of us know that joy is one of the reasons for our very
existence, and we sometimes mistakenly think that life should therefore
be easy. We think that if we are living righteously we should be
guaranteed an existence free from tragedy and serious di culty. When I
rst became depressed, I wondered why I was having this problem when
all my life I had done everything I could to live the gospel, recalls one
victim of a serious depression.

But in the same chapter where Lehi teaches that men are, that they
might have joy (2 Ne. 2:25), he also teaches the critical importance of
opposition (see 2 Ne. 2:11). Without knowing misery, he reminds us, we
cannot have joy. (See 2 Ne. 2:23.)

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Tragedy and di culty are part of mortal life. When we understand this,
we will be more willing to share our struggles with others. This sharing
can lessen the isolation and shame we or our brothers and sisters feel
when we encounter serious problems.

This understanding can also free us from self-pity. And then, as we turn
our focus from our own pain to that of others, we can actually
experience joy as we help lift burdens. Having endured a frightening
illness myself, I can now o er help and comfort to others who are
su ering from something similar, says one woman. Being able to do
this gives meaning to an experience that at the time seemed unbearable.
Now I can better understand the pain of others, and one of my greatest
blessings is to be able to o er understanding and help.

Faith and Hope

The Spirit of the Lord can bless the lives of families who are dealing with
mental illness. Some spouses and family members speak of comforting
priesthood blessings they have receivedand of subsequent inspiration
to know where to nd help; some feel they have been blessed with long-
su ering and an increased measure of charity toward the a icted loved
one; some speak of a simple assurance that, although the day-to-day
burdens are heavy, the Lord is aware of them and is sustaining them.

There are no easy answers, says one husband. But our Father in
Heaven doesnt leave us alone in the struggle.

How Many Are Su ering?**

Schizophrenia1 percent

Major a ective disorders (including depression and bipolar- or manic-

depression)4 percent

Anxiety disorders and phobias15 percent

Total20 percent
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Warning Signals of Mental Illness

Mental illness, like other serious disorders, is marked by several early
warning signals. Although each of us may experience one or more of
these symptoms at one time or another, we should become concerned
and get help if they persist or recur frequently.

Prolonged or severe depression

Undue, continuing anxiety and worry

Tension-caused physical problems

Withdrawal from society; isolation

Confused or disordered thinking

Hallucinations or delusions (may be of a religious nature)

Unjusti ed fears

Obsessions or compulsions

Inappropriate emotions

Substantial, rapid weight gain or loss

Too much or too little sleep

Excessive self-centeredness

Loss of touch with reality

Inability to maintain good interpersonal relationships

Inability to cope with or overcome problems in school, at work, or at


Inability to manage everyday routines and responsibilities in school, at

work, or at home
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Inability to take care of ones personal needs

Extremely immature behavior

Negative self-image and outlook

(Adapted from Now at Last, pamphlet, The American Mental Health Fund,
n.d., pp. 23.)

For Support and Information

An association of family members of the chronically mentally ill, with
groups in many cities throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico,
South Africa, and the Virgin Islands, can provide support and
information. Write to

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

1901 North Fort Meyer Drive

Suite #500

Arlington, VA 22209

Phone: 703-524-7600

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill also has the following support

Sibling Network

Forensic Network

Homeless Network

For more information about mental illness, you can write to

The National Mental Health Association

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/02/mental-illness-in-search-of-understanding-and-hope?lang=eng 18/19
17/12/2017 Mental Illness: - ensign

1800 North Kent Street

Arlington, VA 22209

Phone: 703-528-6405

Illustrated by Cary Henrie

All names of individuals dealing with mental illness and their families
have been changed.

Figures are based on a 1984 National Institute of Mental Health study

of fteen thousand adults living in the United States. Institutionalized
and homeless people were not included in this study.

Jan Underwood Pinborough, an editor, is Young Women president in Salt

Lake Citys Edgehill Second Ward.

2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1989/02/mental-illness-in-search-of-understanding-and-hope?lang=eng 19/19