I’ve met a few people who believe this myth. Maybe believe is too strong of a word… accept might be more accurate. I think that people in general readily believe that misfortune comes from sin, and that isn’t necessarily an incorrect interpretation. After all, it is true that sin does not lead to happiness and well being. However, while sin may generally lead to misfortune, not all misfortune is sin-based, and we are wrong to judge the mentally ill on this basis.
The following story comes from a good friend of mine:
The strength of my testimony is not correlated with my social anxiety disorder. I know that God loves us. I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ is a way for us to lighten our burdens. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know the church is true.
People, especially unorganized groups, freak me out. Three hours of participating and being around this group we call Church Attendance gives me anxiety. Other locations and situations give me anxiety: dinners, dances, standing in line, freeway driving, hanging out, meeting new people, shopping, and teaching.
Getting through the majority of my days requires a great deal of faith. I also get frustrated and inpatient with myself more than anyone else. This requires constant dialog with my Heavenly Father as I learn to “have a fresh view about God, about myself, and about the world we lin in” (Bible Dictionary – Repentance).
I am doing the best I can. I know others are, too. I don’t know how to tell others how to interact with me, but I don’t mind talking about my illness. I don’t mind being straightforward and honest if you ask me why I don’t come to church and how I am doing in matters of faith. But please don’t judge the behaviors as indicators of my faith. I am not fragile, I won’t break, I have not been offended. I love small groups and personal visits, and I love the Church.
The unfortunate thing about my friend is that I have found myself feeling the need to defend her and her situation to other people. Fortunately, our bishop is a wonderful man with an intimate knowledge of mental illness, but that is not always true of the people who work with him.
This myth is a result of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. If we accept sin to cause unhappiness and mental illness to be an unhappy state, we all too often correlate the two as equal and related things. They are not. It may be true that sin can be a trigger in a person that is already susceptible to mental illness, but sin will not directly cause mental illness. It just does not work that way.
Related to this myth is the perception that a person who does not attend church does so because of a lack of faith. This is also untrue. A family member has been unable to attend church for many years due to mental illness, but she frequently writes of her humble and genuine faith and belief in God and Jesus Christ.
One reason that I love the atonement of Jesus Christ is because it means that I’m responsible for me in my condition doing what I am capable of doing. The Lord understands me and will judge me for me. The Lord understands my sister and my friend and knows both of their situations perfectly. When that final judgment comes, He will justify and condemn based on those situations, and I personally believe that, more often than not, we will find ourselves looking into the eyes of an advocate rather than an executioner.
Sin does not equal mental illness. Mental illness does not equal a lack of testimony.