Zelophehad’s Daughters

Missionaries and Mental Health

Posted by Beatrice

In the middle of my mission, I had two very sick companions one after the other.  With both companions, their health was so bad that we slowly spent more and more time in the apartment until they were eventually sent home.  It was a challenging experience for me in both cases as I focused my energies entirely on supporting them in this frustrating circumstance.  After the second one went home, I was assigned an extremely energetic and capable companion.  I missed my previous companions, but was relieved to have the pressure taken off so I could focus on missionary work again.  However, soon after I got this new companion, I spiraled into depression.  Frankly, I was exhausted and had been holding myself together for a long time in order to support my sick companions.  Also, in my new situation I felt like I wasn’t useful any more.  I had had a really important role and was very needed, and suddenly I didn’t feel as needed anymore (people who care for an ailing family member often experience similar reactions when their roles shift).  What was also surprising was that it took me several months to get out of the depression.  I remember waking up every day and standing in the shower feeling no energy or motivation to do what I needed to do that day.  I became numb, and felt like I was just suffering through the days until I could go home.  Sometimes, I got so fed up with the depression that I would try to fight my way out of it, but it felt like trying to climb out of a muddy hole.  It took an enormous amount of effort and the more I fought to get out, the further I slipped down into the hole.  I talked to the mission president about my feelings to some extent, but I don’t think it went much beyond the fact that I was struggling.  I don’t think the word “depression” even came up in our conversations.  Luckily, my new companion was very supportive and understanding of me and after several months of being together, I felt myself coming out of the depression.

Because of that experience, I have thought a lot about the missionary experience and mental health.  The following list includes two situations that I directly observed as a missionary as well as an experience of a close friend.

1-My first sick companion and I spent a couple of days in the mission home right before she went home.  At the same time an elder was being sent home who had suddenly started exhibiting very unusual behavior.  When he started the mission he was doing well.  However, over the last week or so he had become very manic (he talked very quickly, had a ton of energy, rarely slept, and often had new ideas about how to do things that were not practical).  For example, he had decided that a good way to be able to talk to more people would be to stick his head out of the car window all of the time (with his bike helmet on) and talk to them as they drove by or waited at stoplights.  I observed some of this manic behavior while we were in the mission home together.  For example, he stayed up all night organizing things in the house into a categorization system that didn’t make sense to the rest of us.  The mission president’s wife told me that when they informed his family, the family was not surprised as they had a history of this type of mental health issues in their family.

2-My mission trainer showed symptoms of bi-polar disorder.  She was very happy and energetic one moment and would lash out at me over little things the next moment.  She was extremely controlling and it was very difficult to predict her changes in mood.  She had originally started her mission in the states but got sent home for a couple of months before she was reassigned to my mission.  We were together for 6 weeks and then she was assigned a new companion.  She got sent home from her mission soon after she got the new companion.

3-My friend was assigned to work with a sister who was struggling with anorexia.  Over their first couple of days together, the companion only ate one piece of bread and talked all day about calories and body image.  My friend prayed a lot to know how to help her and was inspired to say and do certain things.  Slowly over the companionship, this missionary started eating again and was able to complete her mission.

Often we think that people with tendencies toward mental illnesses would develop mental health problems regardless of their circumstances.  The vast majority of times this is not the case as environmental circumstances can trigger or exacerbate mental health problems and can also impact how they are dealt with.  One of the biggest triggers of mental health problems is stress, and missions can in many ways be a very stressful experiences (which I go into in more detail below).  In addition to being inherently stressful, I believe that characteristics of the current missionary program increase the likelihood that someone would develop a mental health problem.  Additionally, I believe that characteristics of the current missionary program decrease the likelihood that missionaries would seek and receive appropriate and timely treatment.  This is also expanded upon in more detail below.

I think church leaders recognize that missions can be stressful and difficult experiences and have made an effort to address mental health concerns before missionaries get to the field.  For example, current missionary applications ask questions about mental health and require that missionaries resolve mental health issues before submitting their papers.  However, it is likely that many individuals either show no forms of a mental health problem or have had those problem resolved before the mission only to experience some form of mental health problem during their missionary service.  It is impossible to know what percentage of missionaries struggle with mental health issues without conducting a study.  However, based on my experiences I would hypothesize that there are unique aspects of the missionary experience that raise the likelihood that an individual would struggle with a mental health issue.  These are listed below:

1-Missionary life can be very stressful for a variety of reasons.  These can include living in a different country and speaking a different language and working long hours.  Also, missionaries can place a lot of pressure on themselves and each other if they are not reaching certain goals or getting certain results.  In many cases the missionary’s personal worthiness or spirituality is questioned when the missionary is not getting the desired results.  Furthermore, missionaries often set goals that are dependent on the choices of others.  Thus, missionaries can become frustrated when they work really hard and yet are unable to reach their goals.

2-Because most missionaries are between the ages of 19 and 22, there is a reduced likelihood that they will recognize a potential mental health issue in themselves or other missionaries.  Furthermore, while some mission presidents and their wives might recognize a potential problem, missionaries have limited day to day contact or interaction with the mission leaders.  Additionally, most mission presidents and their wives have limited training in recognizing mental health issues, and thus might not be able to recognize the signs of a problem.  In some cases, the reaction of the mission president can even make the situation worse  (I have heard of cases of mission presidents that didn’t believe that depression was anything more than a lack of faith and effort).

3-Most missionaries have limited access to mental health professionals.  If a problem was recognized, they may or may not be able to see a counselor who would be able to appropriately diagnose and treat the problem because of where they are living.  Furthermore, because missionaries move around often, it would be difficult for a missionary to visit a mental health professional for more than a limited amount of time.

4-Missions involve a high expectation to conform to a rigid lifestyle that offers very little flexibility for individual needs and differences.  Furthermore, missionaries have little freedom to engage in behaviors that may improve their mental health.  For example, many counselors will encourage their patients to use family members and friends as support systems.  Missionaries literally have this support system stripped away as their ability to talk to family and friends is very limited.  Also, counselors will encourage individuals to engage in stress-reducing activities that can help them cope with high stress situations.  These types of activities can vary from individual to individual, but can include things like playing musical instruments and listening to music, exercising, and other forms of relaxation.  While missionaries can engage in some of these activities in a limited way, they have very little down-time in which to cope with the stress they often face.

5-Missionaries are required to be with their companions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Being with the same person all of the time can be difficult in the best circumstances and can be incredibly stressful in the worst circumstances.  We all interact with people that we have a hard time getting along with, but we are usually afforded some time away from those people to decompress.  Additionally, missionaries can be reluctant to express concerns about their ability to get along with their companion as it is often characterized as having a lack of faith or not putting in enough effort.

In my mind, the current missionary program limits individuals from serving who could actually gain a lot from the experience.  Furthermore, it unnecessarily raises the risk that an individual would develop a mental health problem during their mission, and reduces the likelihood that they will seek treatment.  Given that there is often a good deal of pressure to serve a mission (for young men and sometimes for young women) and a lot of social pressure to not return home early, I worry that a lot of missionaries decide to tough out their situation instead of seeking adequate care for their mental health.  I worry that in many cases this will unnecessarily worsen the mental health of the individual as well as impact other missionaries and potentially ward members or investigators.  Furthermore, mental health issues that develop or are exacerbated during the missionary experience can continue to impact individuals long after they return home.

I think there are several practical changes that could improve the situation for missionaries.  They include:

1-Providing training to mission presidents about recognizing potential mental health problems and how to address them.  Teach missionaries in the MTC about how to deal with the stress of the mission, about symptoms of different mental health problems, and what to do if they or their companion experience those symptoms.  Emphasize that mental health issues are not a result of a lack of personal worthiness or a lack of desire to be a good missionary.

2-Provide a safe space for missionaries to address concerns about mental health issues as well as resources to address the issues when they arise.  For example, missionaries could be encouraged to raise concerns about these issues during the interviews that they have with their mission president.  Where possible, the mission president should establish a working relationship with mental health clinics within the mission boundaries that they could refer missionaries to.  In areas where mental health resources are limited, senior missionaries could be called who have professional mental health training.  Their role could involve treating missionaries who are struggling and educating all of the missionaries about mental health issues.

3-Build more flexibility into the missionary schedule.  Allow more time for missionaries to de-stress by engaging in activities appropriate for their calling and situation.

4-Missionaries should be given a safe space to express concerns about the companionship to their mission president.  Where possible, missionaries should be given some alone time or time to work with other companions so they are not with the same person all of the time.

Overall, I am really grateful for my missionary service and glad I went.  I learned how to talk to literally anyone and came to know and love people in a wide variety of personal circumstances.  As a church, we should be focusing on how to increase these positive benefits of missionary service while decrease the risks.  We should be focusing on how to expand these opportunities to a wider variety of people by making changes to the current approach to mental health issues.

What do you think?  Did you experience mental health issues during your mission or observe these issues in others?  How do you think the missionary program could be improved to contribute to better mental health of the missionaries?

24 Responses to “Missionaries and Mental Health”

  1. 1.

    I love your thoughts and suggestions. As someone who suffers from mental illness, I can certainly see how a mission would have exacerbated my problems. I think as a church and people we need to become more understanding and less likely to judge our own or someone else’s mental health issues as a lack of faith or righteousness. Mental health is a very real part of being a functioning member of society, and until we can recognize and stop stigmatizing it, these issues will continue to be problems.

  2. 2.

    Thank you for this post. My husband left his mission early due to depression. It took him about five years to get back to a good and stable place mentally. I am greatly in favor of better mental support for missionaries. Their own families and home wards need to be supportive as well. My husband was nearly shunned by his mother for the embarrassment of coming home early.

  3. 3.

    This is really important work. I saw so much of my mission in this post.
    I think these issues are especially more prevalent among sister missionaries. There was an elder in one of my districts who was having pretty severe depression and other problems, and his companion was just at his wit’s end. Fortunately for both of them, there was another set of elders in the same city who did almost daily exchanges with them to relieve the pressure so they wouldn’t kill each other.
    Sisters never had that luxury–after just 2 weeks with an extremely difficult companion (who was likely suffering from some kind of mental illness) my MTC companion broke down in my arms when we saw each other at general conference. I was the first sister she’d had any contact with in that time. Sister missionaries are far too isolated for anyone’s good.

  4. 4.

    Great post, Beatrice. I particularly identified with this:

    In many cases the missionary’s personal worthiness or spirituality is questioned when the missionary is not getting the desired results. Furthermore, missionaries often set goals that are dependent on the choices of others. Thus, missionaries can become frustrated when they work really hard and yet are unable to reach their goals.

    This was an endless source of frustration for me on my mission. In my mission (as in most others, I suspect), it was the top baptizing elders who were promoted into leadership positions. From those positions, they were encouraged to berate the rest of us for not achieving the “success” that they had. I use the quotation marks because in many cases I saw, the top baptizing elders got there by using their pushiness or sheer charisma to baptize people who had zero actual interest in the Church. But once the stats were in the books, nobody cared about retention. Or at least nobody in the mission did. I suspect many of the members hated us.

    As a result of this culture, and my inability to push or prod many people to be baptized or even listen to many discussions, my mission was without a doubt the most mentally unhealthy two years of my life. I had suffered from a bit of depression beforehand, and I’ve occasionally been depressed since, but never in my life other than my mission have I had long stretches of days when I woke up each morning and wished to be dead.

  5. 5.

    This is such an important issue, and you’ve dealt with it in fantastic detail. I couldn’t agree more with your points. Although, given some of the observations, my own conclusions might be more drastic. I’d love to see the whole program over-hauled–missions shortened, the whole companion-system increased to three-somes or even larger groups, more freedom, less structure.

    My own mission was my first encounter with mental illness as well. I had a companion with depression, after which it became pretty apparent, though I was in denial for quite a while, that I was also suffering from depression. At one point it got so bad I had started crying and actually couldn’t stop. It was very out of character for me. My companion called the mission president, who came and blessed me to “cast the over-whelming pride out of [my] heart.” I still haven’t gotten over the incredible blow that was. It completely broke my spirit and ruined my relationship with my mission president. Most importantly I felt totally unworthy of the spirit and like I had essentially failed in my mission. I survived to the end, but only by massively faking it. I felt like such a fraud. Ten years later, the only reason I’m glad I went was for the crash course it gave me in mental illness, and the empathy I now have for other sufferers.

  6. 6.

    This issue needs to be seriously addressed by Church leaders. The over-emphasize by some mission presidents on numbers (my son was told he HAD to baptize one person per week in Brazil) is terribly stressful, especially if they are in a wealthy area.

    I cannot imagine the Savior wanting any of his missionaries to baptize anyone just so that a mission president can report a higher conversion statistic.

  7. 7.

    Regular poster but going private to protect people who may care.

    There was a boy in my home ward a few years younger than me who came home after a short time in the mission field because of depression and anxiety. He was the first missionary in his family to serve and so I know he felt particularly upset about the fact that he could not serve. It also doesn’t help that mental illness is still stigmatized by society; if you come home from a mission for an obvious physical ailment people give you sympathy, but if you are suffering mentally it isn’t as obvious and people assume it’s your fault in some way. I know this young man’s parents have been very supportive, but he has struggled and is mostly inactive. I also know someone else who came home early due to some mental issues and ended up finding a way to finance a return trip to his mission because of delusions he had, and then had to be rescued by a family member (the mission was halfway across the world from his home). It was also a very diffcult time for him and his family. We have two narratives for missionaries coming home; physical issues are in the ‘sympathetic, can’t be avoided, valiant” category and worthiness issues aren’t, but no one knows what to do with mental issues.

    On my own mission I knew of at least one sister who went home early due to anorexia issues. I was also emergency transferred in to an area to be with a sister who was in the midst of a breakdown. I was not told about what was happening before the transfer, and I had not experienced mental illness up close before, so it took me about a week to realize what was going on. Thankfully it only took another week before they decided to send her home. She was not sleeping, having manic thoughts and paranoid delusions, and doing all kinds of weird things. We were in a European country and the closest Church medical contact was a psychiatrist in another country who would speak to her daily on the phone. This was not ideal, and thankfully I had a reasonable mission president who realized that she needed to go home and get help. I’ve run into her a few times during the last decade and I think she is doing better.

    I think that better mental health care for missionaries will only come as we as a church do a better job accepting and dealing with mental illness. I think some of the things mentioned here will help, but like many things in the church top-down homogeniety is an illusion and each mission has a unique culture that is determined by the mission president and the country/area.

  8. 8.

    My in-laws are on their second senior mission as mental health advisors (my father-in-law was a psychology professor at BYU, and has a professional background as a clinical psychologist). Last time they were over much of Africa, this time Europe West, so it’s a large area to cover and not all mission presidents are receptive to their help, but they visit zone conferences and make presentations, meet individually to counsel with troubled missionaries, continue those therapy sessions over Skype, and even accompany suicidal missionaries home when necessary. There are at least a dozen of these couples serving worldwide (and I’m sure we could use more!), but they are providing a valuable service which needs more awareness by both missionaries and leaders.

  9. 9.

    I was lucky however that my mission president was primarily concerned with the welfare of missionaries and not numbers, but I hear you. Poor missionary mental health is a big problem. I have personally know a number of people who have had mental breakdowns while on their mission. While at BYU, I was biking past the MTC on my way to class. I saw a missionary walking alone with his shirt untucked talking to himself. Something was clearly wrong. I went in to the front desk to get someone to go help him.
    I’m not quite sure what changes I would make if I were in charge. I do think that the schedule that missionaries should ideally maintain is very brutal and unrealistic. I can understand why the missionary department recommends what they do, but it comes with a price. When I was as missionary I longed to have some down time to relieve stress. I also wished I could go see more cultural events. I don’t know if that would help anything. I would probably get advice from mental health professionals on what changes could be made the missionary program to better preserve the health of the missionaries.

  10. 10.

    @ rk – Beatrice is a mental health professional (she holds a PhD in psychology).

  11. 11.

    Thank you everyone for your responses. Stories of missionaries returning home early due to mental health issues break my heart. This is especially heart breaking because in many cases these are young people who are willing to serve and make great sacrifices to do so. However, due to the stressful nature of the mission and a lack of resources are forced to return home early. Instead of being praised for their sacrifice and supported in the challenges they are facing, they are shunned which probably exacerbates the mental health problems.

    fran donaghy-Yes I think in many cases these problems are worse for sisters. As you mention, they don’t see each other as much, which I think contributes to a lot of problems. Elders often can be a support network to each other, but in some missions sisters are avoided by the elders so they don’t even get to enjoy the mission support network. As you mention, sisters don’t have the opportunity to switch companions as often which can be hard if you have a particularly difficult companion. I have also heard sisters mention that standards are set higher for sisters in that they are expected to be happy and energetic all of the time and expected to always look very well put together. When hair and make-up standards are raised for sisters, it eats up more of their limited free time.

    Anita-I am so glad to hear that senior missionaries who are mental health professionals are called to do this important work. I imagine what your in-laws can accomplish is limited due to the huge area that they are expected to cover. It is surprising that they are not received well by some mission presidents. I would imagine that if the GAs and area authorities stressed the importance of these senior missionaries and checked often with the mission presidents about the mental health of the missionaries than this would not happen as much.

  12. 12.

    There is also the option to serve in service missions for those whose disabilities prevent them from serving in proselyting missions.

    I’ve known those with disabilities who have done so.

    That said, this was an excellent commentary.

  13. 13.

    Beatrice, thank you, thank you, thank you! As a therapist I have long believed that the mission program needs a total revamp. The strong focus on image (everyone is watching and judging the church based on how you look and what you do), numbers (competitive baptism rates, etc.), and all of the “shoulding” (explicit and implicit rules and norms) added to an extraordinarily unhealthy workaholic pace often challenges even the most emotionally healthy missionaries. No wonder some tumble into mental/emotional illness. It’s an unhealthy system.

    One other thing came to mind – when missionaries return home for mental illness reasons, the lack of apparent physical cause often pulls for home ward members to make unwarranted assumptions that the return is due to breaking major mission rules, i.e. a dishonorable discharge (can’t remember mormonspeak phrase for this). The returning missionary and family often don’t discuss the reason for the return.

    # 12 – I have long wished we had a service mission option for all young adult members, not just those with disabilities. This would reduce the perception that this is a lessor type of missionary experience. I also believe that communities would be more open to our missionaries in general if they were primarily there to physically serve and proselyting were secondary.

  14. 14.

    This is very well put. I have known several people who had severe mental illness difficulties on their missions; none of them received any help, although some were sent home.

    Sisters have it tougher, no doubt. More isolation, and sometimes, mission culture is very hostile to sisters. When I served in the mid-90s, my mission president told us that at a conference for local mission presidents, several of the mission presidents were extremely negative about the sisters. He knew how to work with women, and simply didn’t have those concerns.

  15. 15.

    I also agree this topic need more attention. I have a nephew, who had a boy that they talked to some on the nephew’s mission. The boy was shot & killed while my nephew was meeting with him. This had quite a negative mental impact on my nephew, but his mission’s leadership ignored the mental impact of seeing this event. My nephew so left his mission after that.

    On the good side, I do see the Church has a web site for the general membership on these issues:

    http://www.lds.org/topics/disability?lang=eng

  16. 16.

    I know this is late, but I wanted to comment since no one else has mentioned it. It seems that the sexual issues that hormone infused young adults have are completely ignored, except to label everything about having hormones as sexual sins. A number of former Mormons have blogged about their experiences with companions who assumed that wanting some time alone in the bathroom automatically meant that a young man was masterbating, whether it was true or not.

    I have a good friend who was molested as a child, but who had gotten help and her therapist thought that going on a mission was a good idea, as long as she could check in with a counselor once a month. Her stake president had talked to Salt Lake, and it was agreed that she could go on a mission, that it would be in the states (so her parent’s insurance would cover her) and that counseling up to twice a month would be arranged.

    Her first companion snored, and they got along relatively well. She had a brother who had been adopted as an older child, and so their family had been in counseling as individuals and as a family. Her second companion was an only child, and didn’t really like having a “broken” companion who had to see a shrink. When my friend started having spontaneous orgasms while dreaming, (something that had been intermittent from the time she had been molested) her companion was extremely upset. When it happened a second time a week or so later, she called the mission president and said she refused to continue having my friend as her companion.

    The mission president handled it fairly well. My friend was transferred to live with the mission president and his wife, and her original companion was transferred there as well. She was able to finish serving her mission, although she and her companions did more service than tracting, and did most of the things an assistant to the president might do, as long as the priesthood wasn’t required.

    Even with the support from the mission president, she still felt ostracized by most of the other sister missionaries. Her second companion was very willing to gossip about what happened, and her belief that my friend was either a lesbian or breaking the laws of chastity. For two years she lived in the same ward as her second companion’s aunt, and the times that she visited her aunt and came to church, were always very uncomfortable.

    I am curious if people think that, as a survivor of molestation, she shouldn’t have gone on a mission, and is orgasm while dreaming considered a sexual sin by the general membership?

  17. 17.

    I hadn’t ever thought about isolation as a general problem for sister missionaries, but it makes sense that it would be. My mission had so few sisters that in general each major city had one sisters’ companionship. We never saw each other except for at transfers, and we were forbidden from calling missionaries in other cities (which, in practice, meant that sisters had no contact with other sisters other than their companions, while most of the elders had a number of other elders around, since they were generally four or six to an apartment). Previous mission presidents had sisters’ conferences; our mission president didn’t see any need for them. I certainly did. If well handled, I think they could have made a huge difference in our morale.

  18. 18.

    I could have written this post. I had a companion who was severely depressed. A previous companion of hers had recognized the depression and gotten her some help, but I was her companion for four months. She was ashamed of her depression and didn’t want me to talk to anyone about it. So I did as she asked and basically had to prop her up the entire time since she couldn’t do much. After she left the area, she grabbed a knife and was threatening her new companions that she would kill herself. These sisters took the initiative to arrange a lot of splits–wish I’d thought of that. I found out later that pretty much the whole mission knew about what was going on, and the MP even told her new companions that their job was not to baptize, but to keep her on her mission (wish he’d said that to me!). After she left, I trained a new sister, but I didn’t do very well because I pretty much fell apart. It took me a while to recover. While all this was happening, my parents separated and I was stuck in the same area for over ten months. So I guess it’s not a surprise that I was a mess. Thank goodness my greenie was capable, but it was not a good situation.
    One of the difficulties of being in that situation was the complete isolation I dealt with. If I could do things differently now, I would say that missionaries should learn about mental illness and how to recognize and deal with it at the occasional zone conference. It will probably be easier to arrange splits since there will be more sisters now, but these should be encouraged as not only to help investigators and teaching techniques, but for the missionaries’ own mental health.

  19. 19.

    Great post! As a mental health therapist I have seen a lot of problems related to how missionaries with mental illness are treated by mission presidents. My sister had to come home due to depression, her mission president was so mean to her and made a lot of rude comments to her. Her mission president accused her of leaving early to be with a man, despite the mission nurse prescribing anti-depressants. Her mission president also did not give her an exit interview, so the stake president (who was a previous mission president) had to do the exit interview.

    It is really frustrating to know that there is no education being done related to mental illness. I interned at LDS Family Services headquarters and I created an educational tool to educate various ecclesiastical leaders about a variety of anxiety disorders.

  20. 20.

    I know this post was written some time ago, but I wanted to share my own perspective.

    I believe that a mission does set people up for mental health problems that could be addressed in all the great ways suggested above. I also think missions do a somewhat poor job of preventing those that should not serve from going. I realize they have “raised the bar” (whatever that means) and there is certainly a reduction in the number of people that shouldn’t be there, but they do get through sometimes. Plus, as we’ve all seen, a mission will trigger any problem you have.

    I was transferred to my second area after I had been out for 4 1/2 months. My new companion was absolutely crazy and as mentally unstable as anyone I have, literally, ever known. To do this day, I am convinced that she needs very intensive treatment.

    She grew up in an extremely abusive household, but also would lie about the extent of the abuse in her household. She loved to tell everyone (and I mean everyone — people on the streets and all) that her brother had tried to murder her father. Horrifying! I later found out that her brother had accidentally fired a BB gun at her dad. Not exactly murder, but she had a hard time distinguishing reality.

    Literally the first thing she said to me upon meeting me was, “Have you received revelation on who your husband is?” The girl was obsessed with that. She thought she had and talked hours and hours a day about this man she’d received revelation about (by the way, after finishing her mission, she didn’t marry him but married some guy she had known for two weeks). She also spoke for hours and hours a day about sex. She had been sexually active with many men as a 13/14 year old, had run away from home to live with me, etc. She was a very sexual creature and carried herself that way. Her sexual past was one of the things she was heavily screened for before her mission (she was screened for a year) and the church’s therapist expressed concerns she may attempt lesbian behaviors with her companions.

    She also had severe body image issues. Her parents had kept the cupboards and fridge locked, so access to food to her meant massive binges. She would buy packages of brownie mix, make the mix, and drink the liquid. She ate literally everything I bought within two days. She spent her entire monthly allowance on laxatives (I’m not kidding) and would take laxatives every single night. She was also obsessive about exercise. She would exercise for two hours every single morning and even got special permission from the mission president to do so.

    I could go on and on AND ON from the girl teaching people about Kolob, to her emotional break downs, to her fantasy world that included spending as much time as possible on P Days on the Barbie aisle, and drawing pictures of herself as an exalted being.

    I couldn’t even complain to my mission president as he told me before I even got to the area that I was NEVER, under any circumstance, to complain about Sister **** and that she held a special place in his heart. He would not tolerate anything bad said about her. I was trapped with someone very unstable and had no one to talk to.

    Fast forward to the end of my mission. I was about to start my last transfer when I got a call from the MP saying I would be transferred to a different Sister that was emotionally unstable and my assignment was to keep her on the mission and NOT to do any kind of missionary work. The new area was actually where I had been abused prior (see my comment http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/02/14/when-bad-missions-get-worse-a-request-for-advice/), so it actually triggered a melt down on my part and I refused to be transferred there.

    He sent another sister to deal with this unstable sister and then that MP finished his “service” and left. A new MP came in, saw the unstable sister and how bad off she was, and immediately sent her home.

  21. 21.

    *there’s a part that says “me”, should say “MEN”. Ooops!

  22. 22.

    escc, I just wanted to join Eve, Beatrice, and Melyngoch and say how sorry I am that you went through that! Missions can be so deeply, wrenchingly painful, even without abuse of power and manipulative MPs/companions. You (and Beatrice) have already explained the problems embedded in the structure of the mission so well – I can just add my commiseration and solidarity. When missions go bad, they can go really bad, and as a culture we don’t have many safe spaces for RMs who have suffered to process and heal.

    As Beatrice argues in the OP, we absolutely can and should set up more safeguards to protect our missionaries – it could be done with minor changes to the program. In my mind one of the most important things we can do now is start the conversation and let people know that it’s possible to be a good Mormon who has a bad mission experience, and that having a bad experience doesn’t mean you were wicked or lacking in faith.

    Beatrice’s posts at Both Sides Now on emotional abuse in a mission companionship (linked by Eve http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/02/14/when-bad-missions-get-worse-a-request-for-advice/) received more hits from google searches than any other post at Both Sides Now. As admin I used to look at those google searches. They were sobering, and left me deeply worried – search terms like “emotionally abusive LDS mission president” and “abusive missionary companionships” came through with astounding regularity. If those searches are any indicator, this is a problem we have in our culture, and it’s time to address it.

  23. 23.

    Thank you for the kind words and the welcome to this amazing site. I absolutely love it and am inspired by what I have read.

    I was amazed, but not surprised (funny how that works) when I read what you said about google search results. I find time and again as I search google, that there are PLENTY of forums where people are telling their stories. I, too, believe there should be some resources. I would do anything for the church to acknowledge it.

    I hope, in some small way, to be a voice for others.

  24. 24.

    [...] about my mission, prior to this post, can be seen in the comments section at this blog and this blog (I am escc).  More so though, I’ve always been a champion for the underdog, a voice for the [...]

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