“Missionary service is emotionally demanding. Your support system is going to be withdrawn from you as you leave home and go out into the world. … There will be days of rejection and disappointment. Learn now about your emotional limits, and learn how to control your emotions under the circumstances you will face as a missionary.” – L. Tom Perry
An often overlooked consideration for missionary service is mental health and stability. Many Elders and Sisters return home early because they were not mentally prepared for missionary service. In some cases, those suffering with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression cannot serve. Unfortunately, these young adults feel like they are failures or less righteous than those who get the opportunity to serve. This is something that cannot continue in our culture.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19.4% of adults (ages 18-25) in the United States suffer from a mental illness.
In an Ensign article from March 2011 by Robert K. Wagstaff, a former mission president, about preparing emotionally for missionary service, he stated, “According to Judi Moore, a doctor and former medical adviser in the South America South Area, stress may contribute to many of missionaries’ most common physical complaints, including headaches, back pain, heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue, stomach problems, dry mouth, and even frequent sore throats. For some, stress can also lead to panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and difficulty functioning.”
This is one reason why I am currently postponing my mission. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and if I went on a mission as soon as I turned 19, I don’t believe I would have been able to handle it for long.
To combat these issues and prepare for the emotionally demanding life of a missionary, Wagstaff suggests meeting with your bishop, medical professionals, and visiting with Family Services before starting your papers.
Some people say that they don’t want to take medication for their problems because it makes them “not themselves” when they’re medicated. I personally feel the opposite. I am normally a bubbly, confident, outgoing person. During one of my episodes, I can become extremely quiet and reserved, even angry, which isn’t like me at all. Since beginning my treatment, I am more like myself again. I have the desire to be with friends and loved ones, participate in my favorite activities, and meet new people. Without my treatment, I’m worried I would get overcome by my anxiety and be immobilized. That is not how I want to begin my mission experience. Also, I understand medication might not be the best option for everyone, but this is my perspective on it.
“Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came. It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
If you or someone you love may be suffering from mental illness, please get help. I waited for over eight years to get help, suffering on my own instead of reaching out for help. God created so many physicians, physical and spiritual, to help us. Don’t let that go to waste. Don’t suffer in silence.
What will you do this week to reach out to someone who may be struggling?