Over the weekend I received an email that really concerned me. The email came through the LDS Missionary Moms group I belong to. It was addressed to all missionary mums (and families) throughout the world and warned us about a growing concern that seems to be affecting many of our missionaries today. I gained permission from Betty Pearson, the moderator of the e-group, to re-post here the contents of that email. I have not changed the wording of the email in any way, and it appears here exactly as it it did when it was sent to me. It speaks for itself, so I will make no further comment on it. *Please note the website that Betty recommends to all future missionaries and their families.
MIssionary Anxiety and Stress:
It is concerning that so many missionaries are struggling with this issue. As parents, perhaps the best thing we can do right now is to help our own missionaries through this struggle, AND, if we have future missionaries, help them understand that they might experience this on their missions, and how to overcome it. They can develop tools right now that will aid and strengthen them during hard times of homesickness, stress, and anxiety.
Last year there were over 6000 missionaries that came home early because of these kinds of issues. Most did not return to the mission field. There is no single cause, and there is no one solution.
Dr. Richard Ingebretsen works with many Mission Doctors, and they have compiled a book called, "Missionary Medicine". They also have a website that we highly recommend you visit. They have added sections for depression, anxiety and stress:
Missionary Medicine - A Guide to LDS Missionary Health
In his email to me, he wrote: "Communication is very, very important. The missionary has to have people to talk with and to email with. Families need to be able to communicate with the missionary and the missionary needs someone in the field to talk with. This can be a companion, a missionary friend, a counselor, or a friend from home. The Church has done several things to help. The first is they are allowing missionaries to email friends at home and in other missions. This will allow the missionary to communicate and see how their friends are coping. It also makes a mission more familiar in that they can keep the communication lines open with their support system.
"It is recommended that missionaries take out a "911 package." In the package they should include pictures, music, and other items from home that will help them when they are stressed out. Any item that would have some special meaning that the missionary can turn to give them strength.
"Missionaries should be taught prior to leaving about the symptoms of homesickness and anxiety and should be prepared to address them ahead of time. Families should be prepared to know that the missionary will have symptoms and be prepared. They should read about anxiety and stress and educate themselves ahead of time. The two chapters in our book were written by one of the psychiatrists for the church. They are pretty good and should be read by parents and missionaries.
"If they are in areas where it is dark much of the year, they can use light boxes where the missionary will be exposed to bright lights. This helps to produce vitamin D in their system. These have been successful. Vitamin D supplements can be useful for anyone having symptoms.
"Exercise is important as well, if a missionary is not working out this can be helpful. Diet is important as well, but a lot of missionaries who are stressed just don't eat well at all.
"In the end, it might be useful for the missionary to be transferred to a mission closer to home, where the sights, sounds, meals, and language are more familiar. Families can send packages easier and communication is better." NB: Image sourced at LDS.org - Media Library