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LDS missionaries developing strategies to cope with stress

Published: Friday, Dec. 6 2013 8:25 p.m. MST

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CodyCougar
Madison, SD

Great topic, great analysis. I wish they had one of these stress inventories and coping guides for bishops and stake presidencies.

Truthseeker
SLO, CA

Refreshing to see an article on this very important subject.

No young person should feel shame for coming home early or choosing not to go.

I don't believe that every young man should serve a mission. Some just aren't suited for that type of work or the sometimes extreme physical, emotional and spiritual challenges and separation from family and support systems.
I think we lose many young men around missionary age because of the tremendous pressure and emphasis put on serving a mission. The pressure can be unhealthy, at a time of life when young adults are just beginning to learn about themselves.
We need to grow as a church, get rid of the " cookie-cutter" and expand our borders to include a broader range of people. There should be a comfortable place in the pews for our young people who opt not to serve a mission. It is tragic when a young person comes home early and then leaves the church because he is made to feel like a failure.

Informed Voter
South Jordan, UT

As a former mission president, this article is right on track. Nearly all early departing missionaries in my experience would have benefited from it. Clearly these issues are more of a problem now than in the 1960s when I served as a young elder. When I told how many left early to another mission president who served in the 1970's, he couldn't relate since only a handful left early in his experience. He made me feel like I was a poor mission president.

Truthseeker
SLO, CA

What percentage of LDS youth choose to serve a mission compared to in the past? I've never seen any statistics of that sort. Could it be that a greater percentage go into the mission field now and therefore a larger number leaving early?

Did things change with this talk in 1981 by President Kimball?

"I was asked a few years ago, “Should every young man who is a member of the Church fill a mission?” And I responded with the answer the Lord has given: “Yes, every worthy young man should fill a mission.”

wrz
Phoenix, AZ

@Truthseeker:
"Could it be that a greater percentage go into the mission field now and therefore a larger number leaving early?"

Or could it be that they are going into the mission field too young/immature? Instead of reducing the age to 18, perhaps it should have been raised to 22 instead... after four years of college.

Furthermore, training in the mission home could be too intensive. The church needs to perhaps tone the whole process down a bit so that the less capable/djusted can make a success of it.

Dadof5sons
Montesano, WA

a few things that should be addressed. to all missionaries and would be missionaries. Is how to cope with stress and anxiety. To many times we meaning all of us are caught up in our thoughts and not in touch with ourselves or our own bodies. taking a few minutes each day morning and night to learn to meditate relax does help. Also being in good physical shape is a very big help. But most important to understand is to welcome those Elders or Sisters who come home early just as enthusiastically as if they served the whole mission. To many times I have seen were people treat a Elder who came home early because of illness as a leper or one who was not worthy.

The Dixie Kid
Saint George, UT

I think a lot a return missionaries suffer from a type of PTSD (not a serious as our soldiers of course). I have been home from my mission for over 13 years now and I still have dreams that I am back on my mission again. In my dream I realize that I am not suppose to be on my mission anymore, and the dream becomes very stressful. I have talked to many RM's who have this type of dream. I have concluded that these dreams are a result of two years of missionary stress.

Little Andy
Tremonton, UT

Like anything else there will always be stats.. When I was in the mission field there were a couple of Elders with a "New car" waiting for them when they got home. That two years was a long long time. Some coming home early will always happen. But I am glad there is help for these young people. Being struggling lost sheep they are in upmost need of everyones help. More talks need to be given on cleaning up our own back yards before making suggestions on others back yards.. Having laid out that there is a problem it will be more helpful to fix it. Just like a alcoholic has to look in the mirror and admit then the problem can fixed..

1aggie
SALT LAKE CITY, UT

Maybe some people just aren't cut out for two years of intensive selling. It takes a certain personality to be a good salesperson, and attempting to be a salesman if you are not can be very stressful for some personality types.

Razzle2
Bluffdale, UT

The Dixie Kid, "I think a lot a return missionaries suffer from a type of PTSD"

While I was reading this article I wanted to comment about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well. You beat me to it.

I loved my mission, however for 30 years my wife would get anxious if the issue of missions ever came up. It was hard to do with four young men in the family.

We have recently discovered that she suffers from PTSD from her own mission. She stuck out her full 18-months but was moved to different missions in different countries. Luckily we have advanced in mental medical disorders and are applying them into missions, school, and work. This will help a lot.

Thank you for this article Des News.

gmlewis
Houston, TX

A mission isn't "selling" - it is teaching and testifying. The stress is real, but it is the stress of a teacher in a world where only a few desire to learn of heavenly things.

The missionary schedule has scripture study built in with time for meditation and prayer. Of course, just living away from home is stressful. Young people who are already taking medication for stress may not be good candidates for a proscelyting mission, and they should be respected for that condition.

Alfred
Phoenix, AZ

@Dadof5sons:
"Too many times we meaning all of us are caught up in our thoughts..."

You're asking kids to act the part of a seasoned adult. Many adults haven't figured out how to get control of their emotions. I know some in their forties and fifties.

"But most important to understand is to welcome those Elders or Sisters who come home early just as enthusiastically as if they served the whole mission."

It's not so much the people back home not welcoming... it's the embarrassment of having failed. Sometimes the issue is not maturity but failure to clear the deck of past indiscretions.

Miss Piggie
Phoenix, AZ

We have an LDS Bishop's Storehouse in our area. There are four missionaries (teens) working there full-time. They apparently were unable to cope with the rigors of regular missionary work and were reassigned from their previous areas to work there. They seem to be enjoying the heck out of the work. Good for them.

mominthetrenches
South Jordan, Utah

I was going to say similarly to Miss Piggie's comments. There are options for service and humanitarian aid missions when kids come home for various physical/emotional reasons. I was at one of the Family History Centers and had a clean cut, young helper and asked how she came to work there. She said she had to return home early from her mission, but wanted to finish up her 18 months. A wise bishop are-assigned her there, she knew nothing of family history when she began, but was trained and was very computer savvy. I loved seeing her there and she told me she was so happy to have a way to complete what she began. I have a nephew with severe dyslexia who cannot process what he reads, and consequently is not able to fulfill the basic reading that is pre-requisite to submitting mission papers. It is nice that there are ways now that people can serve in various capacities and have a successful mission experience, whether it be proselyting or in some other way. This is a great article and I'm glad the Church is addressing this topic.

Truthseeker
SLO, CA

Re:gmlewis
"A mission isn't "selling" - it is teaching and testifying. "

Teaching and testifying is exactly what salesmen do, whether it is a missionary or someone selling vacuum cleaners. They can wholeheartedly believe in their product, and, in fact, many companies love to hire returned missionaries for sales jobs.

(Of course it can be said that missionaries are led by God while other salesmen probably wouldn't make that claim)

"It's not so much the people back home not welcoming... it's the embarrassment of having failed"

I know of a very said situation where the staunchly LDS parents were not welcoming-- in effect, disowned their son when he returned home early from his mission. He has never returned to church.

estevanwalker
Las Vegas, NV

Interesting articles both here and in SLTrib today. As a physician, I once met a Utah patient that attempted suicide after returning home early from a mission and being told (1975 or so) by his stake president that he was "a disgrace to his family, his church, and his ward and stake" in front of the High Council. Unsuccessful, he was hospitalized and found to have a brain tumor--after surgery, his depression disappeared. Oddly he was helped, even his life saved potentially, by the induced suicide attempt.

estevanwalker
Las Vegas, NV

The relationship between early returnees and the raise-the-bar campaign is an interesting one. The campaign has lead to many missionaries being sent home who in the past would have been allowed to finish their missions. It almost became routine for folks to be sent home for minor mental health or physical issues earlier in the prior decade. During my time as a missionary, it was hard to get sent home, almost impossible ('79-'81). Another example of this would be noting that President Monson proudly discussing that he sent 0 missionaries home when he was a mission president. Even requesting to be sent home accomplished little--my mission president would simply say: "No, you agreed to come here for two years, and you're going to finish what you started". Given the high and life-long psychiatric burden of early returns, one wonders if the raise-the-bar campaign has tilted things to far towards sending missionaries home rather than working with them and making every effort to keep them in their missions until they're finished, even if that means less effective missionary work and a strain for their companions.

estevanwalker
Las Vegas, NV

While easier for mission presidents/missions to cope without the troubled missionary, it's good to see something writtent about the consequences of this looser "ship-them-back" policy that has come into effect more recently, although based on my discussions with recently returned missionaries it's now less common-place that it was 10 or so years ago (and 1% coming home early is quite good, suggesting a pre-disposition to excellent mental/physical health in those allowed to serve).
Finally, as someone who co-wrote a study 25 years ago about missionary health, I think congratulations are due to the medical group (lead by Devon Hale of the UUtah SOM) who have created the outstanding system to take care of ill missionaries. Prior to the 1990s, ill missionaries were often simply abandoned, both in the mission field and after returning. Treatment of illness was at best inconsistent and the horror stories abundant. That has clearly changed--great job by the committee of health professionals assigned to care for the missionary's mental and physical health.

sukiyhtaky
us, CA

Cougar...you said what I was thinking as I read this article. I'm not LDS, but I have two dear friends who are in a bric and SP and the fatigue and stress I see them both go through is daunting. Both holding full time prestigious jobs and then working another 30-40 hours on their callings, I see them on the brink many times of exhaustion. How they have time for their families....well they just don't. For a church that puts such an emphasis on families, many callings are the antithesis to family friendly. I don't understand it. These are type A guys to begin with and it is akin to giving limitless crack cocaine to an addict.

Vernal Mom
Vernal, UT

Thank you Mr.Walch, for an informative article. This is a subject that we have been tip toeing around instead of addressing it. We've seen several missionaries over the years come home early because of "anxiety". A few have gone back and are doing well after treatment. When I mentioned it to my husband, that we might want to ask our missionary about how he's handling "stress", he had no idea what I was talking about. He served two years overseas, and never felt any added stress. I'm being treated for a low level of PSTD, so I "get it". I'm grateful there is help.

estevanwalker - I appreciate your insight - very interesting.

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