Mormon Culture: Missionary Mental Health Resources
If you’re the parent of a son or daughter going on a mission, you probably worry about their health when they write home saying something is amiss. And if it’s related to mental health, you might not know what resources are available to them.
According to psychologist Wendy Ulrich, who provides council for the missionary mental health committee, in general, we can expect one in five people at any time to struggle with depression. And missions connect to depression through stress.
“Stress isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but when we get overstressed, we start dealing with depression and anxiety,” Ulrich said.
Not all mission presidents will be very versed in mental health or know all the proper ways of dealing with mental health, but the Church provides them and missionaries with resources.
Here’s a breakdown of what exists to help missionaries with mental health:
Missionary Mental health committee
The church has a mental health committee that works to think of ways to help missionaries and their mental health while in the field. This committee has put together things like the “Adjusting to Missionary Life” booklet and “My Plan.”
“Adjusting to missionary life” booklet
This is a booklet that missionaries receive in the MTC as of 2013. It talks about stress and how to manage it. Also included are resources for managing physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual demands.
Ulrich helped put together this resource. She said the missionary mental health committee was concerned about the amount of stress put on missionaries and decided to create a resource to help missionaries deal with the new stress.
She said in an interview, “People maybe are not supposed to admit when they’re involved in these sorts of projects. I think we want to believe they just descend from heaven.”
They worked on this booklet for about two years. It was meant to be given to missionaries after they’d already been in the field for a while, but Ulrich said bishops are starting to give the booklets to priests and laurels so that the transition isn’t so “dramatic.” The booklet provides resources for the missionaries.
Before a mission, people can do things like talk to parents or friends or go to the movies, Ulrich said, but when they’re on a mission, they can’t do those things. Ulrich said once people learn to manage their stress in a missionary environment, their stress levels will go down.
According to Ulrich, for the past two years, there was an effort to teach mission presidents how to use the “Adjusting to Missionary Life” booklet — which is apparently a big deal since they spent several hours out of the short time the mission presidents are trained to go over this booklet.
My Plan is a booklet structured to help returned missionaries learn to set goals when they get home and help with the transition from mission life to home life.
“It’s really a time when people are trying to gain a sense of independence, and that’s the important thing for them to be doing,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich said the committee in charge of My Plan is now reworking the program.
It seems as though there will soon be an online portal as well to help “strengthen returning full-time missionaries.” Missionaries will work with the material before, during, and after their missions.
mental health and medical advisors
There are mental health and medical advisors assigned to various missions. They work under the missionary department organization and help provide mental health counseling to missionaries.
Senior missionaries can also serve providing mental health counseling. In the Senior Missionaries Opportunity Bulletin, updated May 19, 2017, it says mental health counselors are needed to advise mission presidents on missionary health.
Ulrich said there was a spike in concern about mental health right at the beginning of the missionary age change in 2012, but percentage-wise, things have stabilized again.
Mission presidents have resources to help missionaries, but Ulrich said she thinks they are reluctant to use them.
“I think most of them are probably pretty reluctant to make use of them because you’re trying really hard to pretend that you know what you’re doing,” Ulrich said, her husband having served as a mission president in Canada.
However, she said some do reach out, and she’s done consultations with them. She said one of the reasons mission presidents might not reach out is because people of her generation aren’t accustomed to reaching out about mental health issues.
Every mission president is assigned an “in-field representative.” There are about 20 representatives in Salt Lake City that are available full-time to mission presidents and their wives. They are the people who can connect mission presidents to medical help and other such resources.
mission president portal
Mission presidents have access to resources on various topics, including mental health, through a mission president portal.