Tiffany Gilbert (name has been changed), a freshman majoring in marriage and family studies, shifts her weight while she sits in the church pew. The priesthood holder is about to hand the sacrament tray to the first person on her row.
A lot of people would not be concerned about the tray coming to their row, but Gilbert is worried something will go wrong.
“There’s so much that could happen when [a priesthood holder] hands you the [sacrament tray],” Gilbert said. “You could drop it; you could spill all the water.”
Gilbert said she has often had panic attacks while taking the sacrament in past years.
“I pretty much had to force myself to sit there through the anxiety and panic because [Latter-day Saints] have to take the sacrament, and I want to take the sacrament,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert suffers from anxiety, which can “make even regular and daily activities such as shopping, cooking or going outside incredibly difficult,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Along with Gilbert, other students at BYU-Idaho suffer from mental illness such as Victoria Jones (name has been changed), a sophomore studying English education.
Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after being hospitalized when she was 15 years old.
“I remember thinking, ‘Great, another thing my dad passed down to me. I can be bipolar but my sisters get his green eyes,’” she said.
Julie Shiffler, a psychologist at the BYU-I counseling center who has been a counselor for almost 17 years, said anxiety is a mental illness but not a mood disorder.
“Mood disorders include the depressive and bipolar disorders,” Shiffler said.
Jones said that she was hospitalized because she had a breakdown during school. She ended in the school counselor’s office.
“I was talking to [my counselor],” Jones said. “He said, ‘I can’t let you leave my office.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because you might be a danger to yourself.’ I said, ‘You don’t know what you are talking about.’”
Jones said she thought everything was fine. She did not know that she was experiencing a breakdown.
“Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder where people will have had at least one manic episode,” Shiffler said.
Shiffler said symptoms of a manic episode include an irritable mood and heightened self-esteem which can cause wreckless behavior.
She said people who experience a manic episode get two to three hours of sleep a night, yet they have an extensive amount of energy.
She also said people experiencing a manic episode jump from one unrelated thought to another.
Shiffler said people with bipolar disorder often experience depression but don’t need to have depression to be diagnosed.
Rachel Johnson (name has been changed), a junior studying elementary education, does not have bipolar disorder, but her father has the mental illness which affected her childhood and teenage years.
“Every single day we had no idea what [my father] was going to be,” Johnson said. “He could be happy one minute and then screaming and yelling the next. There were scary instances, but they happened all the time. The abuse came later.”
Johnson said her father was abusive at first through words.
“I think [he was abusive] because things weren’t his way,” she said. “For example, he would come home and the house would be a mess, but there was dinner on the table, and all the kids were having fun. But he’d come in and yell at everybody because of how messy the house was.”
Shiffler said that while people’s level of choice is reduced during a manic episode, they have a choice to get help or not.
Gilbert is in the middle of switching medication prescribed by her doctor. She said she takes medication because not only has she been diagnosed with anxiety, but also depression and obsessive compulsive tendencies.
“I had quite a few episodes [while at BYU-I] where I would get angry or throw things,” Gilbert said. “One time I curled on the bathroom floor and had a meltdown.”
Gilbert said she started responding to stress by becoming angry while at BYU-I.
“I’m not usually an angry person,” Gilbert said. “Last semester, I threw my laptop on the floor, really hard. That’s so out of character for me; but [my laptop] still works. … [My episode] freaked me out more than anything just because I’ve never reacted that way.”
Jones also experiences negative feelings. She said that when she is set she initially feels angry because that is an easy emotion for her to express.
“It’s easier to be angry than it is to be sad,” Jones said. “That is my immediate first reaction: to get angry at [the situation].”
Jones said she has learned ways to cope as she has grown older.
“I have had to learn how to really control [anger] and channel it into something productive instead of something destructive,” she said. “I’ve learned that when I feel myself getting to that point, I will go and read a book, or I will go and work on my pottery in the studio. I will go and do something by myself. I’ve been able to be a lot more productive through that.”
Jones said it took time for her to learn good coping skills.
“If you would have told me a cole years ago that I would be able to control my emotions and mood swings … I would have called you crazy,” Jones said.
Johnson has changed over the years too. She said that because of some recent events in her family involving her father, she has developed into a better and different person.
“Growing … I learned to push all my emotions under the rug, which is not necessarily a good thing,” Johnson said. “But because of what happened earlier this year, I’ve been able to look past that and be able to look ahead and believe that everything is going to be okay and take some big steps.”
Gilbert said that recently she has taken big steps. She said she is not as anxious when she prays out loud.
“I prayed once at roommate prayer with three other people,” Gilbert said. “… I also blessed the food with one of my friends,” Gilbert said. “That time I didn’t feel as anxious, and maybe with time that will be better.”
In his conference talk titled “Like a Broken Vessel,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland suggested that times would become better for those who struggle with depression or other mental illnesses.
“If the bitter c does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead,” Elder Holland said.
He also said that those with mental illnesses can be healed.
“Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed,” Elder Holland said. “ … I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us, glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be!”
Jones said she knows this is true.
“Knowing that we will have perfected minds and bodies after the second coming helps me to know that this is just a trial in this life,” Jones said. “I know the struggle of having to deal with these mental disorders isn’t something I’m going to have to always struggle with. It isn’t something I’m going to have to hold with me for the rest of eternity.”