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Remembering the Mormon president who may have grappled with depression

Published January 5, 2012 1:16 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This week Mormons worldwide began a yearlong study of LDS President George Albert Smith, who died in 1951.They will hear of his kindness, his gentle personality, his sense of humor and his devotion to the Utah-based church he led for six years in the mid-20th century.One aspect of Smith's life, says blogger Jonathan Stapley, is missing from the church manuals: his lifelong struggle with "what appears to be some sort of chronic depression and anxiety disorder."Stapley, who writes at bycommonconsent, thinks that is a shame.Modern Mormons all "know someone who has or have ourselves taken antidepressants, stimulants, lithium or AAPs," Stapley writes. "We live at a time when we can all safely view mental illness as a biological problem, like cancer, that needs to be treated."Some of those who deal with mental illness, he writes, "still feel stigmatized, and some yet think that it is simply an emotional or spiritual failing."It would be helpful for such members to know, Stapley speculates, that "you can suffer from mental illness and still become the president of the church, sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator."Stapley points to a Journal of Mormon History article by Brigham Young University religion professor Mary Jane Woodger that details some of Smith's struggles.A grandchild suggested that his grandfather "struggled with depression, feeling incompetent, and being overwhelmed," Woodger writes. "There were times when 'he just could not pull it all together.' "Woodger also notes that the compassionate Smith once confided that he is "easily affected" when he "see[s] other people in sorrow and depressed."Peggy Fletcher Stack