by Kevin Shafer:
mental health has received substantial research and popular media attention.
These reports emphasize that men seek help less often for their problems than
women, have few close friends, and tend to externalize their problems through
anger, substance abuse, and other problem behaviors. Men often feel they can’t
share their problems with others because they are constricted by hyper-masculine
norms that tell men they have to be self-reliant and confident in themselves.
Not surprisingly, such attitudes hurt men, their families, and the people they most care about.
Although I have no
data to support my claim, I think that the men of the Church are doing worse
than the average American male when it comes to psychological well-being and
lack of help-seeking. In addition to masculine norms, which are seemingly
pervasive within church culture, LDS men often face several norms which reduce
help-seeking and increase stress, in my view. For one, men are often viewed as
the servers, often because of priesthood responsibilities, and rarely the
served. Second, LDS culture and interpretations of doctrine tell men that they
are to be leaders and American conceptions of leadership exude strength and
reliability. Weakness and personal struggle are rarely seen as leadership
attributes in our culture. Third, messaging about self-reliance has the
potential to be harmful. Fourth, we assume that because someone is in church weekly, performs a calling, etc. that they are "doing fine," and thus, can be somewhat ignored for other concerns. Finally, cultural attitudes about mental health are
not particularly healthy within the church. Although I believe that Elder
Holland’s October 2013 General Conference address will go a long way to change
these unhealthy perceptions of poor mental health, many Mormons still believe
that increased prayer, fasting, and faith can cure such ailments. Although I
have no doubt that these activities can improve mental health, they rarely cure
depression, anxiety, and more serious mental health issues. Obviously, there
are many other contributing factors that block help-seeking in LDS men, but
these four highlight some of the barriers which exist within church culture.
I’ve been thinking
quite a bit about the challenges of LDS men—and how to help them. My feelings
are those of a 33 year-old married father of three (my kids are ages 5, 3, and
1) at the beginning of his career, a challenging time for many men. My wife’s
work is currently as a stay-at-home mother, which comes with the many
challenges of raising three children aged 5 and under, including the total lack
of adult communication during the day and supervising individuals who rarely
listen (and can’t be fired), even more rarely help themselves, and are pretty
bad at cleaning up (on the plus side, they are pretty adorable, fun, and cool).
Although I completely trust my wife, burdening her with my problems seems like
I’m minimizing her problems and challenges. It seems unfair for her to shoulder
these challenges. Of course, I think many men, particularly in the LDS Church,
do exactly this—which raises questions about its effect on women and children,
not to mention the total lack of support for the single Brethren of the Church.
My modest (and
likely flawed) proposal to combat this problem is a real investment in home
teaching and increased solidarity within our quorums. Obviously, these are not
unique solutions—but how wonderful would home teaching be and how high would
the home teaching numbers be if we saw it not only as a support for the
families we teach, but also for the men—giving them access to friendship,
counsel, and Priesthood. We emphasize the critical need for Priesthood in the
lives of women and children, but place less emphasis on it for men. Yet, I’m
convinced that men need the Priesthood as much as anyone else! There are many
times that we need comfort or council that can only come through a Priesthood
Blessing. Living in Utah, I’ve noticed that many men rely upon family
members—but some men in Utah and many men elsewhere are nowhere near family.
I’m convinced that such an experience will be unifying for our quorums and
really emphasize what home teaching is really about. It’s my 2014 goal to be
more like the home teacher I’m describing, someone who cares for the whole
family and someone who can be a friend to brethren whenever they are
Kevin Shafer, or the guest child formerly known as Cougar Buckeye, is currently a resident of Springville, Utah after growing up in Columbus, Ohio. He is a convert to the Church, having joined in his PhD program at Ohio State. Today, he is a professor of social work at BYU where his convert status and lack of degrees from said institution adds just a hint of diversity. In contrast to his own family history, he thinks that his wife’s ancestors may have missed the April 6, 1830 church meeting, but were definitely there on the 13th. He and his wife and three beautiful, rambunctious, and zesty children. He thinks the best part of MMM is the relatively easy peer review process, which stands in contrast to his professional life. Twitter: @ShaferSW.
Image credit: Marina Caprara (used with permission).