Kari Ferguson is a wife, mother, BYU graduate, returned missionary, author and experienced local church leader, presently serving as a relief society president. She has also suffered for many years from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. Kari and Jamund, her husband of nine years, reside in Vancouver, Washington and are the parents of two children. Kari can also be found on LDS Living and The Mighty. Her newest book is The OCD Mormon: Finding Healing and Hope in the Midst of Anxiety. Following is a summary of their podcast interview in which Kari and Jamund discuss symptoms of OCD and its debilitating effects. Suggestions are offered as to how LDS leaders can exhibit sensitivity, and help OCD sufferers in their flock in ways that do not marginalize them or trivialize their condition. Many people with OCD and acute anxiety are very capable of rendering high-quality service in the ward, but it helps to understand what they are up against. The interview concludes with a description of a planned March 3, 2018 conference devoted to OCD/anxiety disorders among church members. It will be held in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Episode Highlights

  • 4:35—What prompted Kari to write her new book, as a follow-up to an earlier book and her blogsite: https://www.theocdmormon.com.
  • 6:15—Jamund describes meeting Kari and relates his own family background dealing with a parent’s bi-polar disorder, making him more sensitive to the needs of someone with Kari’s condition.
  • 8:08—Kari’s symptoms described; previous issues while serving as primary president; being supported by her husband; being called as relief society president by a bishop who became aware of her condition; learning to delegate; not comparing oneself to the last person who occupied the same position/calling.
  • 12:13—Dealing with the stigma; more symptoms described (hoarding, fear of contamination, hit-and-run fears, tapping, etc.). OCD sufferers tend to hide it with facades, and too many are not getting needed help.
  • 15:04—Knowing when professional intervention is required; living a balanced and healthy life; constant need for reassurance; obsessing over repentance; leaders can recommend professional help without giving offense; missing work and losing sleep; getting “sick” at last minute to avoid social situations; avoiding shopping for fear of contamination.
  • 20:26—The big decision for Kari to seek professional counseling; feeling like a failure; the challenge of finding the “right” therapist.
  • 22:25—Medicine, therapy or both? Changing behavior vs masking it; developing coping skills; perfectionism.
  • 25:04—Is the root cause of a person’s OCD irrelevant? OCD can steal your life; cognitive-behavior therapy; international OCD website; retraining the brain; church leader empathy alone is likely not sufficient to help a person overcome acute OCD.
  • 29:00—Religious scrupulosity/perfectionism; LDS Family Services or another path for intervention? Spousal support.
  • 33:00—Healing and coping will often require more than reading scriptures, praying more often and attending the temple. Connection between mental and spiritual; leaders should avoid tendency towards on-the-spot diagnosis. Leader listening skills paramount.
  • 40:00— Decreasing the stigma and creating a culture/climate where it can be discussed in a healthy way at the ward level. Reference to an apostle who dealt with some mental health issues.
  • 45:23—Just how capable are people with OCD—can they serve in leadership capacity? Allowing for flexibility in how things are done.
  • 52:45—If you are a sufferer, set realistic expectations for yourself; essential vs. non-essential decisions. Kari’s envelope-licking issue.
  • 55:40—Does a person ever get totally cured? More on symptoms and coping mechanisms.
  • 58:20—Why leaders should make room for people to serve, even if they have issues.
  • 1:00:00—More on scrupulosity, perfectionism and constant guilt; feelings of being beyond the reach of the Atonement. People with OCD may hear and process admonitions given over the pulpit at an extreme level, even if that was unintended. Helping sufferers find joy in the gospel.
  • 1:10:00—Avoiding shame culture in the church setting.
  • 1:13:50—March 3rd conference in SLC “Anxiety Disorders and Mormonism.” Speakers will include Julie Hanks, PhD; Jon Hershfield, MFT; Reid Wilson, PhD and others. Topics will include scrupulosity and more. There will be time for discussion. Former mission presidents or church leaders who have helped people through OCD/anxiety issues are encouraged to attend and weigh in.
  • 1:16:25—Concluding thoughts: Be open, loving and compassionate. Don’t make broad assumptions. Mental illness is common, but many decline to talk about it. Be an example of compassion as a leader. There likely won’t be a one-and-done solution.

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