I was recently pointed to a blog post called Satan’s Hidden Arsenal Against Women and asked my opinion about it, especially since some are planning on sharing this type of message in Relief Society lessons, Sunday School, etc. I don’t mean to pick on this particular post or author (she actually includes some applicable, good information). However, I’m concerned about framing these types of issues in a way that gives Satan so much power. It is a common theme I have seen shared in many places over a long period of time.
I want to be clear that mental health disorders are medical issues. There are genetic, biological, environmental, psychological and social/cultural factors that go into these types of diagnoses that are complex and almost impossible to completely unravel. And depression does not just affect women. It affects men, women, children and adolescents. There is a lot of mention in the mental health fields that men may suffer equally from depression but that it may present differently than it does for women who might be more apt in talking about their symptoms (substance abuse, overworking, isolation, etc.).
Would we be comfortable saying that Satan controls such things as diabetes, cancer, the fact that a broken limb occurred? That he rejoices when he sees us suffering from an ulcer, tumor, sore throat, surgery, etc.? We don’t typically speak of physical ailments in the same way we feel comfortable speaking of psychological ailments in church settings.
And even though as a believing Christian, you may include the belief of a satanic being – it has always been my experience that giving him credit for things, especially when he is given power of being “in your head,” only gives him (or the idea of him) more power. Satan is a scary figure – a figure that provokes fear and anxiety in of itself. And fear and anxiety are no friends of clinical disorders such as depression and general anxiety diagnoses.
Feeling like you are under the influence of satanic powers is really provocative language (he’s going in for the kill, he’s lying to you, this is the only way he can get to you, etc.) and unhelpful to those who are struggling with mental health issues. Because even if it makes sense to a believer that Satan rejoices when we suffer – having something affect you on a daily basis that you then give Satan credit for, is psychologically powerful in a way that is harmful and unproductive. The trend then often becomes a self-blaming one. What am I doing or not doing that allows Satan to have such an influence in my life? And that type of thinking exacerbates problems. So much of the cognitive/behavioral work done in therapy is exactly about learning how to combat this type of thinking. Because this type of thinking is not accurate or evidence-based. It doesn’t even fall into doctrinal correctness. If you have a predisposition to depression, Satan has nothing to do with that. Satan is not our creator.
I would much rather have a discussion along the lines of normalizing ailments. And this fits very well into Mormon doctrine. We live in an imperfect world. We believe that pain and struggling will be part of our experience here. We believe we have a loving God that supports us and comforts us. We believe that we live in a time where much has been given: we have much knowledge through science and education that helps us understand why different things may be happening. And we have effective treatments that include everything from medicine, talk therapy, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, hypnosis, EMDR, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), etc. that can help us lead productive lives. As Mormons we believe we have infinite worth, have divine potential and that progress is an eternal endeavor that we need not stress out about – because we have grace. So even when we hit plateaus, take steps backwards, or feel like progress in not being made, we can look towards our doctrine as a place of comfort and solace – not fear and anxiety. And these are the thoughts that can lead to the necessary “radical acceptance” approach we need to truly combat hardships like clinical depression. These are the types of gospel principles that I think are important to talk about if mental health is going to be brought up in a Sunday setting.
Leave Satan out of it. There is nothing helpful about that presence – so why bring attention to it? Less Satan please – more Jesus.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex InfoPodcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.