July 12, 2021

This Sunday in Elder's Quorum, a discussion began about men who would not support their wives and children. One brother discussed how sometimes employment-related problems are accompanied by depression, which makes it more difficult to work or even to get a job--and we need to treat these situations more as a medical and mental health problem than a sin. A few sympathetic comments followed and it seemed like a good discussion was developing.

Things turned when another brother said, "I can't believe what I'm hearing! I was raised on a farm and if you didn't go out and feed your animals, they died, no matter how bad you felt!" As you might guess, after that comment we were right back to a familiar discussion about not being lazy, pushing through no matter how bad you feel inside, and how people who are depressed are really just lazy and feeling sorry for themselves.

I have to admit that I left that Elder's Quorum lesson feeling somewhat discouraged. It seemed like the last thing we needed in our quorum was another self-congratulatory lesson where we build ourselves up at the expense of people who are having a hard time. I honestly think that's a really ugly part of our culture that needs to change.

So, let's talk about farmers for a minute. Farmers know the meaning of hard work right? They "push through" and "take responsibility" no matter what misfortunes they encounter right? According to the NHRA Policy Brief, farmers commit suicide at a rate of 350 percent of the national average. I would bet that farmers and farm workers who killed themselves were taking better care of their animals and crops than their own mental health. They might "buck up" and be responsible--until they don't.

What if I m a farmer and don't have any hay to feed my cows because there was a drought and I couldn't irrigate my hay fields? What if I don't have a farm anymore because, during a drought year, I couldn't grow a crop, couldn't pay my operating loan, so the bank took my farm? What if we sit around in Elder's Quorum and talk about me being unwilling to work because I am lazy and irresponsible?

PLEASE no more lectures about how farmers and ranchers know better than the rest of us how to put their feelings aside and do what needs to be done. (I was partly raised on a ranch and my father is a rancher. I appreciate hard work and personal responsibility--but it is not the solution to everything.) The "no excuses" response to genuine mental health issues is antiquated and uneducated.

Providing for a family in this day and age involves a heck of a lot more than just being "willing to work." The economy where there is a good job for everyone who is willing to work--with a gold watch and a pension at the end--has disappeared. It's a lot more complicated now.

I think most Latter-day Saint men want to work and are willing to. We don't need lessons judging and brow-beating people who are down and out. If it's just a matter of getting up out of bed and going out to feed some cows in 30 below weather, I can do THAT even when I'm completely depressed. Feeding some cows is just going through the motions. But can I think my way out of unemployment when I am anxious or depressed? I might be "willing" to take a job at a call center for $10 an hour. I may not feel "above" that job. But it won't come close to paying the mortgage.

Friends, I bring this up today because a lot of mid-singles go through mental health challenges when they go through an unwanted divorce or death of a loved one. Sometimes the divorce was at the end of a row of cascading dominos. The loss of a job or business causes financial problems, which causes relationship stress, which can lead to divorce--and the person feels like it is all too overwhelming.

I am not suggesting that anyone purposely wallow in despair, be lazy, or spend the rest of life mourning and being unproductive. That isn't good for our mental health. I DO recommend that we be kinder and more compassionate to each other--and that we be careful not to belittle others for their misfortunes.

During our former marriages, Cathy and I both sometimes made condescending comments in Church and other settings about people who could not make their marriages work. We might have even been guilty of saying that if people would just live the gospel, they wouldn't have all of these problems. We didn't know what we didn't know. Getting divorced was a humbling experience for both of us. We are now much less prone to make assumptions or be judgmental about people's painful circumstances.

Friends, we love you and we are all in this together. Let's try to be more gentle with our mid-single brothers and sisters who may be going through (or recovering from) the greatest trials of their mortal lives. We can start to change our culture one person and one priesthood lesson at a time.
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