Kincart: The LDS Church Needs More Focus on LGBTQ Mental Health

Local+Mormon+church+near+Foothill+Drive+on+Sunday%2C+July+11%2C+2021.+%28Photo+by+Kevin+Cody+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

Kevin Cody

Local Mormon church near Foothill Drive on Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sydney Kincart, Print Chief, Opinion Writer

 

On Oct. 2 and 3, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its fourth all-virtual General Conference, a weekend full of remarks given by church general authorities.

The October 2021 General Conference included a push to get vaccinated. It was also filled with more traditional topics, ranging from loving God to attending church. Among these remarks, General authority Erich W. Kopischke detailed his son’s mental health challenges while serving a mission.

But throughout the conference, there was no discussion of LGBTQ inclusion, leaving many, including myself, dissatisfied.

The church needs to address this issue, as it is central to its younger membership. The discussion of mental health was critical. But no discussion of mental health will be complete until we acknowledge the church’s role in worsening the mental health of LGBTQ members.

The LDS Church has not extensively addressed mental health. In the October 2019 General Conference, Reyna Aburto spoke about the topic. Aburto, Second Counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, spoke of the sadness she experienced after her father’s suicide. She even advocated for medical intervention in some cases.

Much of the church rhetoric surrounding mental health emphasizes the importance of having a relationship with God. But in reality, anxiety, depression and other mental health diagnoses benefit from professional help.

Aburto’s talk especially impacted me since it went against traditional church rhetoric. I felt comforted knowing that mental health issues are valid, and not a fault of my spirituality.

Kopischke reiterated this sentiment, but specifically emphasized the mental health difficulties of missionaries. It’s important that the church addresses mental health not only because it affects everyone, but because of the ways missions can reveal or worsen missionary mental health.

In Kopischke’s address, he recounted his son’s experiences with panic attacks, depression and anxiety — all leading him to return home early from his mission. Returning home from missions often causes distress for both the young adult and family. The church teaches that men should serve missions, which creates pressure to serve even if it’s not the best choice for someone.

A small study interviewed 12 early-returned missionaries and surveyed 348 of them. It determined that 36% of the missionaries surveyed and half of those interviewed cited mental health reasons. This showed that people shouldn’t view mental illness as shameful. Kopischke served as the one to finally acknowledge this truth and say it on the church’s largest platform.

He went as far as to mention that mental health issues affect everyone. “It is worldwide, covering every continent and culture, and affecting all — young, old, rich and poor. Members of the church have not been excluded,” he said in his talk.

Not only did he acknowledge mental health, but he encouraged action. He told members to learn more about mental health because knowledge assists with the development of “healthy expectations and healthy interactions.”

And while this talk was well-received and incredibly important in addressing the stigma surrounding mental health in the church, it fails to consider the way the church continues to inflict harm on the LGBTQ community.

In Utah, LGBTQ youth remain at high risk of suicide. Gay and lesbian teenagers in Utah were more than twice as likely to report feeling sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks than their straight peers.

Church leaders and members continue spreading harmful messages to the LGBTQ community. And although there isn’t proof of causality between the church’s teachings and the state’s suicide rates, this data still demonstrates a cause for concern.

Utah has a youth suicide task force, but we still have a long way to go. We need more data to fully understand the disparities. Utah added a question about sexual orientation to the statewide SHARP survey in 2019, so data collection will likely become more accurate.

But regardless of state changes, Mormonism remains a profound influence of state culture. As long as the church isn’t entirely inclusive of the LGBTQ community, disproportionate mental health strains on its members will continue. Even if the church somehow becomes a beacon of inclusivity, LGBTQ members may still experience trauma from years of navigating the relationship between their sexual orientation and the church.

The LDS church can’t truly care about mental health until they acknowledge the disparity of suicide rates in the state. I’m relieved that the church has started acknowledging the mental health realities of members, especially missionaries. But when they continue to leave a significant portion of members behind, it’s difficult to applaud their progress.

 

[email protected]

@sydjstar