Sam Tielemans is a marriage and family therapist in Las Vegas, NV. He has spent thousands of hours working with people struggling with depression, anxiety, addictions, or challenges in marriage. He’s certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy and loves working with people! He is one of the professional therapists on the Advisory Board for Leading Saints and has been a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’s been married for 6 years and has a sweet 3-year-old daughter who loves to greet him in the garage when he gets home.
Most of us either know someone who has been affected by depression or anxiety or have experienced it ourselves. It can affect people for different reasons, but the impact it causes can be debilitating.
For a period of a few years in my own life, I felt the weight of what I thought was depression. After I was introduced to a concept that helped me make sense out of why I was feeling off (which I’ll share below), everything changed for me.
It’s important for leaders to understand why people struggle and what’s at the core of it because once they do, so many more options and solutions open up so we can better help the individual.
When I was around 16, I remember just feeling bad. I didn’t truly understand at that time why, but I just thought I was depressed. I bought a book about depression, wanted to figure out what was going on, but didn’t really get the answers I felt I needed.
I was an active member of the Church, was a good kid, but still, no matter how good I tried to be, I still had moments where I felt bad.
I went on a mission, had an excellent experience, but again, came home and during certain points, I felt the same kind of feelings of heaviness, had moments where I wanted to isolate, and didn’t feel like myself.
None of these feelings pre and post-mission ran my life. I was still able to do the things I loved, had friends, I contributed to others, but these moments of feeling off came and went, and they just operated in the background.
Deep Depression Operates Front and Center
For other people who struggle with a deeper sense of depression and anxiety, it operates front and center and it interferes with their ability to live the kind of life they want to live.
I had always loved helping people and wanted to go to school to become a therapist. While I was in school, I was introduced to a concept that changed my life. It helped me make sense of why I had felt the way I had during those points of my life growing up.
The thing that I realized was that these down feelings I had stemmed from an idea that the author Brene Brown called “shame,” which is a negative belief about yourself.
Examples of this are beliefs such as “I’m bad,” “I’m unworthy,” “I’m not good enough,” or some variation of that. Shame is a disempowering, negative feeling that leaves you feeling bad about who you are as a person, instead of feeling bad about an action or decision that is out of line with your values (which then motivates us to change and do better).
A light switch flipped on after I realized that shame is was what I had been feeling for a long time. It was a sense of sadness and heaviness connected to the negative beliefs I had about myself, and once I was able to realize that the feelings I had were simply just an extension of a bad, unproductive belief, things then changed for me.
I started to not see myself as a bad person anymore, but it was just this filter or lens I was looking through that distorted my perception. I was able to gradually remove these lenses and replace them with something much more empowering and productive, which then changed the negative feelings I had been having as well.
What Does This Mean for You and Your Stewardship
It means that there are people all around you suffering from the same stuck feelings and beliefs. They feel bad about who they are and tell themselves that they don’t measure up to the standards of the Church, of other people, and of themselves, therefore they are bad and unworthy. None of that is true, but it’s what they believe. And as a result of that belief, they feel depressed and anxious.
Think about it, how could you not feel anxious if you had a standard of perfection you had to live up to but failed to reach it and made mistakes? If that is filtered through the belief system of “If I’m not perfect, then I’m not enough,” there is no way that you can help but feel depressed and anxious. Always chasing this unachievable goal (in this life) and feeling bad about it all the time because you aren’t there yet.
The overwhelming majority of the people I see in my counseling practice, who struggle with depression or anxiety, struggle because of shame being at the root of their issues. Or in other words, those negative core beliefs about themselves.
How We Can Help
Here are 4 ways we can help our brothers and sisters:
- We can become aware of this common, shaming, experience, which can allow us to see them and their struggles differently. There is nothing wrong with these people, they just have lenses that aren’t working for them.
- We can have a discussion with them, get to know where they feel stuck and empathize with them and their pain. This will help them feel understood and cared about. We can then help change the negative messages that shame sends to them.
- We can normalize the fact that we make mistakes, it’s not just them, and it doesn’t mean they are a bad person. We can explain to them the idea that it’s just a filter through which they see the world. Becoming aware of this idea was literally life-changing for me. We can help them separate out a mistake, judgemental thought, a failure to live a commandment perfectly, etc., we can separate those actions from the person, which helps to release the pain connected to those mistakes.
- This understanding should also influence the way we teach lessons. We teach a standard of progress, growth, improvement, and repentance, but we are careful about the language that we use while we do it. Avoiding saying things like, “I know you’re all good boys and girls (teaching the youth) and so you’d never look at pornography, but we need to talk about this anyway.” Thus framing pornography as only something that bad boys and girls do. It’s crucial that we acknowledge the struggles of life and difficulties that we face, and that sometimes we don’t make the right choice. We are reinforcing that, when we do make a poor choice, it doesn’t mean that we are bad people. What it really means is that the choice didn’t line up with the direction we want to go, and there is a way for us to get back on track. Framing things in this way allows us to both teach correct and important standards, but it separates the person from the action, which empowers us to want to make better choices.
We Are All Fighting A Hard Battle
As leaders, we have the best interests of the ward members and others at heart. Once we understand and can more clearly identify why someone is struggling, the solution and manner in which we help them becomes clearer.
We are all fighting a hard battle, and by continuing to extend compassion and love, we help heal the shame that people experience. This then allows people to overcome depression and anxiety in a healthier and timely way.
I think it’s important to not conflate “Depression” with feeling down, feeling shame, etc.
I’m sure the author knows the difference, but I fear the article does not make enough distinction between the two and leaders may not encourage individuals to get appropriate medical help when they truly have “Depression” and not an intense feeling of shame or being down.
As the author states, “I felt the weight of what I thought was depression.” and later says, “I realized that shame was what I had been feeling for a long time.”
I define “Depression” as a brain illness and it may be accompanied or triggered by shame or other factors, but it’s important to get a correct therapeutic and psychiatric diagnosis of whether a period of depression is really “Depression” or something else.
Being a brain illness, the “cure” may require cognitive behavior therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
The new book by Jane Clayson Johnson, “Silent Souls Weeping — Depression, Sharing Stories, Finding Hope” may be a great resource for both leaders and those questioning whether what they are experiencing is “Depression” or something else.
I am also a therapist and agree 100% with the comments made by Steve Asvitt. I also think the book “Silent Souls Weeping — Depression, Sharing Stories, Finding Hope” is a great resource!
I’m glad that mental health is a topic being raised more and more but we do need to be careful that there is a distinction made between a chemical imbalance that needs medication and shame being the cause. It seems that those dealing with a chemical imbalance in the brain may have a tendency to experience more shame but trying to work on changing that perspective will definitely not be enough for some people experiencing mental health issues.