A full-time mission can be a wonderful source of blessings—both for the missionary and those they serve. As Elder Richard G. Scott (1928–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“A mission will provide extraordinary blessings for you now and throughout your life. …
“… I testify that devoted full-time missionary service is a source of great happiness and rich blessings” (“Now Is the Time to Serve a Mission!” Ensign, May 2006, 90).
But a mission can also be an unexpectedly difficult experience. President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) taught: “Missionary work is difficult. It taxes one’s energies, it strains one’s capacity, it demands one’s best effort. … No other labor requires longer hours or greater devotion or such sacrifice and fervent prayer” (“That All May Hear,” Ensign, May 1995, 49). As a missionary, you’re spending all day with someone you may or may not get along with, you’re facing rejection and opposition at every turn, and you don’t have the daily comforts of home and loved ones nearby to help you keep going. All of these factors can take a toll on your mental and emotional health as a full-time missionary.
No two minds are the same, so if you find yourself struggling, counsel with Heavenly Father, your mission president, or your companion to find solutions that work for you. Here we share experiences from two young adults who worked through their struggles with anxiety and depression while serving full-time missions.
Before I left on my mission to Pennsylvania, USA, I started experiencing anxiety. My mission plans were put on hold as I worked to address what I was feeling. My mission president wanted me to be in a good place mentally because missions can trigger a lot of stress and anxiety.
I worked to address my mental health and then left on my mission after I was given clearance from a counselor.
Everything was fine until I arrived in my third area. From not getting along with my companion to struggling to find people to teach, my anxiety spiked to the point where I could hardly get out of bed in the morning. I had moments where I felt so anxious that I could barely breathe, and I was experiencing situational depression. I eventually reached out to my mission president, who lovingly suggested I speak to my mission’s mental health counselors. Talking to them helped, but it didn’t take care of the problem entirely.
What did help me get back on track were the tools and the practices I had learned from counseling. I used them to maintain my mental health. They didn’t take away my anxiety entirely, but they made it manageable enough to be able to continue my missionary service.
Here are my tips for managing anxiety on your mission:
Take care of yourself! Reading your scriptures and praying can help your spirit heal, but if you need to take some time to yourself every day for self-care (maybe during mealtimes or when you’re getting ready for the day or for bed), make this a priority for maintaining your mental health.
When you can, do things that you enjoy. You may be serving the Lord, but you’re still you! Write in your journal, draw, sing, listen to music, talk to your family and loved ones on preparation day, write a letter—do things that help you feel at peace.
Write down five things you’re grateful for each day. This practice can actually change your brain for the better.
Consider taking doctor-approved medication if needed.
Let your companion know if you’re struggling and how she or he can help you.
Practice yoga, meditation, or mindfulness during your morning workout or in the evening.
Talk to a professional mental health counselor if you need to.
Have an “ugly” journal to write out all your negative thoughts and feelings and anxieties, but don’t dwell on them. The point is to express these feelings and then move on. Sometimes it helps to crumple or rip up the page after you’ve written out your feelings; it’s kind of symbolic of letting those negative thoughts and feelings go.
Ask for a priesthood blessing when you need extra strength.
Read your patriarchal blessing often.
Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Talk back to negative thinking! Read “Adjusting to Missionary Life” for more help.
Read and ponder general conference talks, specifically those that focus on mental health, such as Sister Reyna I. Aburto, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!” (Ensign, Nov. 2019, 57–59) and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Like a Broken Vessel” (Ensign, Nov. 2013, 40–42).
Read the scriptures, pondering the ways prophets and missionaries found strength and faith when faced with adversity.
These small and simple practices had a huge impact on my ability to serve the Lord with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. Struggling with your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and there is always hope through Jesus Christ to find strength, hope, and healing. Heavenly Father has given us many tools to keep our minds, bodies, and spirits healthy. We just have to be willing to use them.
Faith Ferguson, Idaho, USA
I first came face-to-face with depression at the end of my mission in South Africa. I was oddly unhappy. My spirits were low, my perspective less positive, and my faith shaken. On top of that, my mom was unwell, and my family had other challenges. I pretended that everything was OK, but it wasn’t. One moment, I had been handling all sorts of stress just fine, and the next, I hit my breaking point. My thoughts were crushing me, and everything seemed to turn against me.
I was emotionally and mentally drained, so I decided to fast and pray for guidance. As a result, I received three specific promptings:
The first was to talk to my mission president. Finally opening up about my struggles helped me feel better and know I wasn’t alone.
Second, I was prompted that learning of Jesus Christ could help me through this. As I studied about Heavenly Father and the Savior, it became clear to me that They knew my pain and felt my sorrow. I relied on Them for strength when I felt I had none.
The third prompting came from a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Service is the best medicine for self-pity, selfishness, despair, and loneliness” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley , 201.) As I focused outward and on serving others, over time I felt happier, more confident, and more trust in Heavenly Father.
I got through my mission, but depression struck again during my first few months in university. I had just moved from Zambia to Malaysia and was far from home with no friends or family close by. I didn’t even know where my branch met for church.
I held onto hope and felt prompted to fast and pray for guidance again. From there, I was led to becoming friends with a girl in my class who helped me find the closest branch. As I walked into the chapel on that first Sunday, I felt the Holy Ghost lift my burden from me. I knew that I could follow the healing steps I took on my mission. Again, I spoke to my Church leaders for help, studied the life and teachings of the Savior, and then focused on serving others. I found people to talk to and reached out, helped others at school, and accepted a calling at church.
I’ve learned so much about mental health from experiencing depression. We can get too busy to check on ourselves or those around us, but we need to open up to others about our struggles—for our own sake and for theirs. Sin, loneliness, grief, disappointment, and heartbreak can affect each of us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. One of the hardest parts of depression is that you feel far from God.
But we are never alone. When we are struggling, we can focus on coming unto Christ, for He can make weak things strong (see Ether 12:27).
I know that God loves us and that we are His children. If we rely on Jesus Christ and keep His commandments, we will be blessed and strengthened. Because of Him, I receive strength through His Atonement and continue to enjoy the blessings of peace and joy.
Akasiwa Wamunyima, Malaysia