Ganel-Lyn is dedicated to her family, faith, and inspiring others to live a balanced life. She loves teaching others with writing, speaking, and consulting. She has healed from a major chronic illness and is the mother to two miracle children. Ganel-Lyn lives with an open heart and feels passionate about sharing personal spiritual practices that will empower others to live purposeful and joyful lives. Ganel-Lyn enjoys writing a column, Everyday Faith, for the Daily Herald (Utah County). Ganel-Lyn’s first book, I Can Do Hard Things with God was a best-seller, inspiring readers all over the world to do their own “hard things” with God. She is grateful for writing additional books: I Can Forgive with God (August 2016, the sequel to Hard Things, her first Christmas book The Perfect Gift (October 2016), the inspirational book The Decision that Changed my Life (January 2017), and a beautiful booklet Mother to Mother (March 2017). She loves growing older, and after 25 years of marriage, Ganel-Lyn believes that a life of LEARNING is a life of LOVE. She is known for teaching Gospel Principles and inspiring others with her unique honesty, authenticity, and heart.
I lost my beautiful 40-year-old sister Meggan to suicide. There is nothing great about the word suicide. But there have been some sacred gifts and blessings that have come in the wake of her March 2014 death. Suicide was a strange, unwelcome grief. It was different than any feeling of loss I had previously experienced. Without the Atonement of Christ, I would not have survived the pain and heart-breaking loss of Meg’s passing. Over time, greater understanding has replaced the pain.
I am not a licensed therapist and in no way have all the answers. But in the past few years, I have talked to and written for tens of thousands of people about my experience, and through my experience and speaking about it I have gathered truths and understandings that I share in hopes that it will support leaders and those struggling.
Everywhere I go, the topics of anxiety, depression, and suicide seems to touch everyone, at some level. It doesn’t matter what topic I am asked to speak on, or what book I am working on, this common thread is always weaving its way into lives everywhere. People from all religions and walks of life are affected to one degree or another.
From my own personal experience and research, the Spirit has born witness to me that these are truly “last days’” issues of war. We are FIGHTING A WAR. And we know already who will win! But with all war, there are casualties and battle fatigue. I see suicide as a casualty of war and depression/anxiety as wounds of war. And I will be so bold as to say that many (not all) crises of faith are often rooted in spiritual and emotional fatigue. Church members are so busy doing good, but they don’t always FEEL good. Why is that?
Depression/anxiety can become walls that make it difficult for someone to feel the Spirit, feel loved, or feel hope. Hope, faith, and love are foundational in overcoming this life, navigating adversity, and experiencing joy. Our Father in Heaven did not send us down to earth to fail, but we need to be focused on how we can develop hope in the face of difficulty.
The scriptures have warned us that the hearts of men will fail them in the last days. I believe that we are seeing the fulfillment of that prophecy in the rising statistics regarding suicide, depression, and anxiety. One reason is that Satan is working 24/7 to rob of us hope and use our vulnerabilities for his benefit. So how can we fight and treat depression/anxiety and suicide through developing hope?
Get a Big Toolbox
If you have a broken appliance in your house, you would likely pull out your toolbox to fix it. If the first screwdriver or wrench you used didn’t fit, you wouldn’t just throw up your hands and say, “Oh well, that’s that! I guess we’ll do without the refrigerator or stove for a while.” You would go back to your box and try another tool. Treating depression, anxiety, and doubt may require a big toolbox. And one that is filled with a variety of tools.
Suicide is about one choice someone makes, not all the choices (both good and bad) that a person made in their life. But it is one choice that changes everything. Suicide is the one decision that eliminates all other options. The question is how can we help those struggling so that they know they always have options? How can we help them fill up their tool boxes, so if one wrench or hammer isn’t doing the job, they won’t give up, and they will try another tool?
I was recently talking with a professional therapist about her approach with clients who are suicidal. She often tells a patient who is ready to give up and says they have tried EVERYTHING and NOTHING works, that they haven’t tried her program yet. She will then say that if in six months it hasn’t helped, they are no worse off, and can try plan B.
Her technique is to cultivate hope. Hope isn’t a feeling—it is a choice. It comes from knowing there is always another plan B to try. Hope comes from not giving up. When someone deals with depression over a long period, hope starts to disappear and suicide is often the extreme sign that hope has been lost. Medication, counseling, and professionally directed support groups can be powerful tools in helping restore hope for those suffering.
Bishops and Church leaders can sensitively recognize that a person can’t just wish themselves out of the pit of depression or chronic anxiety. Counsel with those in your stewardship about not giving up and that you will help them to keep trying new tools. Leaders can be the louder voice saying, “There is always another plan B we can try.
I have the great privilege of speaking at a lot of girls’ camps, youth conferences, and YSA firesides. I always encourage our youth and young single adults to talk with their church leaders. Youth are sometimes intimidated to talk with their bishops. I see leaders as the trail guides that help point out slippery rocks and dangerous passes. They are not jailers. I love meeting bishops, stake presidents, and youth leaders who are open and engaged with their members.
Leaders who aren’t afraid to talk about the hard stuff make a huge difference. Leaders can be some of the best devisers of another plan B. If you are a bishop or youth leader, make it loud and clear that you don’t have all the answers, but you have ways to get answers.
Stake and ward leaders should have access to lists of qualified mental health professionals in the area. Remember, our Church leaders are usually not qualified counselors. They are set apart as stewards over a stake, ward, or auxiliary, and should not be expected to solve all problems, but they are great resources to help a person struggling to find glimmers of hope. They may also be able to provide temporal support to offset additional concerns that come with chronic depression and anxiety.
I will be forever grateful for my sister’s dedicated bishop. He met with her almost weekly for over three years. He confesses that in counseling with Meg, he became a better bishop. He grew to understand mental illness and have empathy for those who suffer. I know he would have done anything to help her.
Muhammad Ali once said, “A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.” When a person, especially one of our youth, deals with long-term depression, the crowing stops because the dark can overcome the light. I like to consider our spiritual tools as sources of light. These are the Sunday School answers that are foundational for fighting back the dark. Temple attendance, partaking of the sacrament, priesthood blessings, daily prayer, and scripture study are great tools to pull out of the toolbox and use.
I don’t believe that if someone would have more faith or be more faithful they would stop struggling with depression or anxiety. But I do testify that using these tools has helped me overcome trials, stay faithful, and wait upon the Lord until a burden was either removed or my shoulders became stronger through Christ. Leaders who suggest these spiritual practices would be wise to say that choosing to attend Church each week, keeping and using a temple recommend, and having daily prayer and scripture study will not lead us to be free from struggle, but the person will be using all the tools in the toolbox and thus be in a place to receive the strength, impressions, and miracles God has available to give.
Stay in your body. Satan does not have a body. Thus, he attacks bodies. He doesn’t have a family so he attacks families. I know that those who struggle, especially over a long period like my sister, find that the fight with depression feels like just too much. To those who struggle and those who help those who struggle, I say STAY IN YOUR BODY. Stay. No matter how tired you feel. Stay.
Stay in church. For many people who deal with anxiety, going to church can be triggering. Leaders can validate those feelings and offer to be a safe zone for someone who is struggling to stay. I say stay.
Stay in hope. Remember hope isn’t a feeling, it is about looking to the next plan B. It is about pulling out another tool. Use all the tools you can: massage, sleep, good friends, funny movies, exercise, oils, diet, and journaling.
I am often asked, “Why did your sister kill herself?” God is the only one who truly knows the answer. But as her big sister, I know some of the contributing factors that led to the mental, emotional, and spiritual darkness that eclipsed the light for Meg. In the end, she got too tired to keep fighting and she stopped reaching out for another tool. Through some very personal and sacred experiences, I have come to understand the regret Meg felt for ending her life. She is now one of those angels who cheer me on from the other side in this mission and work. I know she would join me in saying to all the bishops, parents, and leaders out there, “DON’T GIVE UP! Keep praying and helping and trying.” And to all those who are struggling, “Keep gathering tools and filling up your toolbox. If one tool doesn’t fit or work, try another one! And stay in your body!”
* For additional information for leaders and those struggling with depression/anxiety and suicide, please see the Church website on preventing suicide.
Thank you for making this topic of discussion a priority and for helping to educate leaders in the church about how to be compassionate to those with mental health issues.
I have loved all the insights on this blog. Thank you.