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Mormon missionaries returning early face stigma


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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/0 ... r=Religion

 

 

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Salt Lake Tribune | By Peggy Fletcher Stack Posted: 12/09/2013 3:49 pm EST

 

 

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS)

It’s what fellow Mormons didn’t say that Ryan Freeman found most unnerving.

Freeman had left for his two-year LDS mission to St. Louis in January 2010, full of faith and hope. But returned a few months later suffering severe depression, anxiety and migraine headaches. His mission president was understanding and his family in Springville was supportive.

Only a few members made rude comments, but others –even once-close friends — avoided him.

“People don’t know how to talk to you,” Freeman said. “There’s so much silence.”

He felt pressure to “get better” and return to mission work, he said, so he worked at a Mormon temple and tried to live by mission rules.

Finally, as Freeman told his LDS bishop he was ready to return to his full-time mission, the young man broke down, sobbing. The bishop then helped the would-be missionary see that he still had health issues and that there were other ways he could share and serve his faith.

Not until that moment, he said, did he feel closure.

Freeman, like so many other “early-returning missionaries,” continued to be troubled, though, by feelings of failure.

That is no surprise, given the stigma typically associated with coming home before the allotted time. Many Mormons presume anyone returning early committed some serious sin, broke mission rules, just couldn’t cut it, or was “unworthy” to wear the badge in some other way.

Mormon missions are often described as “the best two years.” Many who serve talk about spiritual highs, miracles, faith-building and mind-expanding experiences. Former missionaries rarely detail how tough the work can be, how rigorous, how stressful.

Few enter the mission field anticipating anything but a life-changing, positive experience.

The percentage of young Mormon missionaries who come home early for health reasons has remained fairly consistent — about 1.5 percent — during the past two decades, according to sources in the church’s Missionary Department.

But the number of LDS missionaries has skyrocketed in the past year, thanks to the lower age of service (18 for men, 19 for women), soaring from 58,500 in October 2012 to more than 82,000 today.

That means about 1,200 missionaries may find themselves in the “early returnee” category, beset by physical and mental health problems that immobilize them and destroy their plans.

Suddenly, “the best two years” can become the “worst three months.”

High-level LDS leaders in Salt Lake City are aware of the challenges and have created an elaborate system for helping missionaries and their families cope. They just published a candid pamphlet called, “Adjusting to Missionary Life,” which lays out some of the challenges young people will face.

They created a team of doctors and psychologists to follow early-returning missionaries’ progress at home and to advise parents, families and ward members on how to treat their loved ones.

Several Mormon psychologists and psychiatrists also have begun studying the effects of early returns and counseling families on how best to help restore their children’s confidence.

At the same time, Freeman and his friend, Drew Botcherby, have been sharing their experiences, reaching out to those who feel ashamed and unwelcome. They launched website, sickrms.com, and solicited stories and responses from 612 missionaries who either came home early or, like Botcherby, faced debilitating health problems on their missions.

“Missions are hard,” said Richard Ferre, a psychiatrist who works with the Utah-based faith’s Missionary Department. “There are better ways to cope than to hide illness or to presume [those who come home early] lack faith.”

Ferre applauded the efforts of Freeman and his group.

Early returnees are no longer voiceless, the psychiatrist said. “That’s an incredible step — and the only way to take the shame out of it.”

In the 1990s, the LDS Church began to “raise the bar” on missionary standards. That push included better screening to find out if young people might be at risk for physical or mental illness.

Applicants with a history of depression still can go on missions as long as they are stable on medication.

Candidates with limited abilities can serve alternative missions, perhaps an online assignment or gardening on downtown Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.

Many young missionaries, though, have no history and show no signs of mental illness until they arrive in their assigned locations and undergo the rigors of missionary life.

LDS leaders have divided the world into regions, each with a full-time medical missionary (a trained physician) and a full-time mental health professional.

There are no blanket rules about when to send a missionary home for a health crisis, explained Gregory Schwitzer, a physician who oversees missionary health. Every case is different, save for missionaries who express suicidal thoughts.

“We can’t deal with it in the field,” Schwitzer said. “We have to send them home. That’s an absolute.”

Leaders have to determine what the impact of depression, for example, will be on the missionary’s ability to work (every day starts at 6:30 a.m. goes until 10:30 p.m.), on the relationship with an assigned “companion” and on the whole group (there are about 200 missionaries in each of the 405 Mormon missions around the world).

No decision is made lightly or by ecclesiastical fiat, Schwitzer said. A mission president and his wife consult with the area medical or mental health adviser, then with the missionary’s LDS stake president and bishop, and, of course, the missionary’s parents.

Once the decision is made to send a missionary home, the church’s Returned Missionary Support System kicks into gear, he says. Some 60 to 70 physicians, capable of dealing with physical and mental health challenges, are on call to help the missionaries deal with their problems and re-enter home life.

 

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I don't know much about Mormon missions, but it's really sad that these people have to feel like that if they are either sick or just can't handle it.

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The conditions these young adults live under are ridiculous and likely contribute to anxiety and depression. I would guess that many of them are suffering from situational depression not clinical depression. Just the part where they are not allowed to be alone except in the bathroom would do that to anyone who is naturally introverted.

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The conditions these young adults live under are ridiculous and likely contribute to anxiety and depression. I would guess that many of them are suffering from situational depression not clinical depression. Just the part where they are not allowed to be alone except in the bathroom would do that to anyone who is naturally introverted.

I have read up on Mormon missionary life and I agree the conditions are probably a factor in situational depression.

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A few stories. I come from one of the "Royal Mormon Families" and we have quite a few "embarrassing" missionary situations that all of the momos in the family freak about.

A cousin confessed to getting "handsy" with a girl a few days before he left for his mission (they give them long sexual grillings during weekly mission check up) and was sent home from a foreign country, the girl that he was involved with was sent home from her stateside mission as well. They were made to get married a month later...(they are on a year long ban from getting Temple Sealed though, so it's very hush hush.)

A great uncle on his mission (long time ago) got out of it in the only way he knew how to, running away and threatening to jump off a bridge (it use to be a little bit harder to get off mission).

Another uncle got thrown off for buying some sheet music that was secular (something nuts like Elvis Christmas Piano sheets). It's an intense situation.

We never hear about this crap in the papers in the Salt Lake Valley, though. The SL Tribune and Desseret News are practically owned be the momos.

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The conditions these young adults live under are ridiculous and likely contribute to anxiety and depression. I would guess that many of them are suffering from situational depression not clinical depression. Just the part where they are not allowed to be alone except in the bathroom would do that to anyone who is naturally introverted.

There was a missionary pair I used to see around campus a lot and ended up getting to know pretty well. I was shocked to see that the junior companion had to ask the other just for permission to use the bathroom, and the senior companion would say no sometimes. Her next companion at least let her use the bathroom by herself, which I'm sure was a huge relief.

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There was a missionary pair I used to see around campus a lot and ended up getting to know pretty well. I was shocked to see that the junior companion had to ask the other just for permission to use the bathroom, and the senior companion would say no sometimes. Her next companion at least let her use the bathroom by herself, which I'm sure was a huge relief.

The senior would say no???

That's like, especially sucky. I've never heard of that happening. Poor girl! :wtf:

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Mr. Flojo's family are Mormon and my sister-in-law, who I am close with, is a retuned missionary. Their brother is also returned.

I find it astounding how hard they can be worked. Sis-in-law would get one 8 hour block a week as "free" time, to do all her emailing, shopping, reading. There are something like 6 books they can read, and no movies/internet/tv are allowed.

She still had to be with her companion.

She loved it, but she likes structure, liked her placement (it was a foreign mission to somewhere that she had taken college classes in the language prior), and loves her faith. I can imagine for an 18/19 year old boy who is going because of social pressure, it could be quite the opposite.

Incidentally, I have clearly been watching too much BBC. I started writing about my sister in law "to whom I am close" before realising just how affected my writing has become!

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We have a friend who returned home early. His girlfriend dumped him because of that- he had figured she was the one he would marry, but no, since he didn't finish his mission, she dumped him (and that's not uncommon, because girls are fed the idea that you must marry a returned missionary from basically birth). Fortunately, he's seeing someone else now and seems happy, but I worried terribly about him when he left early, because I knew some people would treat him like shit and he's seriously one of the best people I've ever known.

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Unfortunately, Mormon girls are brainwashed from birth that they should only marry a RM, so those males who either don't go on a mission or who return early really are treated like shit. Also, Mormon couples who don't have a temple wedding right away are treated like shit for a year if they get married outside the temple because it's assumed they had premarital sex.

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Also, Mormon couples who don't have a temple wedding right away are treated like shit for a year if they get married outside the temple because it's assumed they had premarital sex.

This really bothers me. As you mentioned, if you choose to have a civil wedding, you cannot also be sealed in the temple for a year.

If you do marry in the temple instead, only those who are "worthy" may attend. This is a select group of mormons - typically those who are married, have served a mission or who have reached about 25 and gone through a ceremony can attend. Everyone else must sit outside the wedding in the waiting room.

For a convert to Mormonism, this can include parents, siblings, grandparents etc, all not welcome to view the wedding. It also means those who have left the faith must sit outside. I once sat outside with the bride's sister, who had left the church. She was trying to keep things together - she'd had a few siblings marry and this was the last. I have friends whose whole families sat outside as they wed.

There is a smal but growing movement within Mormonism to try and remove the one year requirement, so that people can have both a civil wedding with family and a temple sealing separately without the waiting requirement. Also, the temple wedding with non-Mormons excluded only happens in Canada, South Africa and USA. In other countries there are legal requirements that prevent this, meaning that the civil wedding and temple ceremonies are already separate and the outright rejection of non-Mormon fammily members doesn't happen.

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Years ago, when I first started at my current job, we printed the missionaries' handbook for the region (I recently tried to find it in our files but it was close to 12 years and two computers ago--major bummer). It made for fascinating and mind-boggling reading. The list of restrictions went on and on--how often you were permitted to contact your family (not very), what you were allowed to wear (including underwear), where you were allowed to go, how you were to spend your "down time" (not much of it), exactly how you were supposed to approach non-Mormons and how to frame the sales pitch. It basically sounded like life in prison, complete with a warden to supervise your every waking second. Given what was in that handbook, I'm surprised more people don't bail, regardless of the consequences.

P.S. I have no idea how we got the job since the owner is most definitely not Mormon. Given the confidential nature of the book (BIG notice on the front page that pretty much told the missionaries to STFU about what was in it), I would have thought they'd have a list of approved Mormons vendor they had to use. But then I don't think there are a lot of Mormons on Long Island, given that the local church shares a storefront.

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Being a Mormon missionary sounds like it really sucks.

I am not surprised some of them cant handle it and have to return early.

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Being a Mormon missionary sounds like it really sucks.

I am not surprised some of them cant handle it and have to return early.

I think depending who you are. For some, having been raised with doing their 2 year mission as an ultimate goal, combined with the amount of prestige being a missionary has within the church, and the adventure of going to a new place, it can be an experience that is desired. Not all of course, but for a number - challenging, yes, but the challenging that is seen as good. The fact they are going to effectively share their "correct" truth with all who do not know can elevate them, at least in their own heads and in their churches, which, if you are from a tight knit Mormon community (e.g. Utah or very involved in your ward elsewhere), is pretty much everyone who matters.

There is something to be said about the combining the all knowing attitude the average 18 year old boy posesses with going to share your belief system which you believe to be the only correct one. Quite self-affirming.

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The conditions these young adults live under are ridiculous and likely contribute to anxiety and depression. I would guess that many of them are suffering from situational depression not clinical depression. Just the part where they are not allowed to be alone except in the bathroom would do that to anyone who is naturally introverted.

I, for one, would absolutely die.

Far too much is being asked of these very young men. How many 18-year-olds really have the maturity to deal well with being separated from their family and friends for two full years (and allowed very limited contact while they're away), living possibly very far from home, in such restrictive, uncomfortable conditions?

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