I just saw this article, Sick and Far From Home, posted on Slate and I’ve been noticing that the topic of missionary health is getting more attention these days. Dr. Kris Doty of Utah Valley University has been conducting research so that we can be better equipped as an LDS community to address the needs of missionaries who return earlier than they had expected. She recently presented at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Mormon Mental Health Association to share some of her findings. Sick RMs is a website that has been started by two BYU-Provo students who returned early themselves due to medical issues. Peggy Flatcher Stack did an article on this back in 2013: Guilt, Pain, Help and Hope – When Mormon Missionaries Come Home Early. And I’ve done a couple of podcasts at Mormon Mental Health Podcast addressing this topic as well: Addressing Missionary Health Issues & Missionary Trauma.
I would hope we can stay away from black and white semantics when it comes to this topic. I notice LDS members are often uncomfortable when things are not presented in a positive light. The reality is that missionary service spans a large time frame for those who go. And most members who have gone will report wonderful, spiritual experiences as well as dark and dreary ones. Some say it is the best experience they’ve ever had. Others regret going and even experience things like ecclesiastical abuse. Missionary stories are wide and varied. And we help those around us heal and celebrate when we allow for the space for stories to be told honestly and openly. May we continue to honor all who have served in this capacity by validating experiences that may not have mirrored our own.
Natasha Helfer Parker can be contacted at natashaparker.org.