The First Presidency of the LDS Church has released a set of standard questions for bishops and stake presidents to use while interviewing prospective full-time missionaries. According to lds.org, the questions are intended to help prospective full-time missionaries understand and better prepare they are not only “worthy, but physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for missionary service.”
Marcus Martins, a religion professor at BYU-Hawaii and former mission president over the Sao Paulo North Brazil Mission, said he wishes these questions had been released six years ago when he was first called to be a mission president because it would have saved a lot of heartache.
“No mission president enjoys sending missionaries home before the regular time of their service is over,” said Martins. “It’s not fun. It’s heart wrenching because for us, our missionaries are like our sons and daughters. In the case of those with mental health issues, what becomes even more of a concern is the fact that it was preventable.”
The newly released questions include a number of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and dyslexia.
“As a psychology major, I did notice a bit more of an emphasis on mental health,” said Ben Coffey, a returned missionary and a junior from New Zealand studying psychology. “It’s really good that they’re ... able to see if these are things that prospective missionaries might be facing prior to going into the mission field.”
Cody Kessler, a returned missionary and a senior from California studying psychology, said, “I’ve had plenty of friends come home because of anxiety-based issues and then they’re kind of outcasted, so at least drawing attention kind of helps focus on the church recognizing it. There are other ways to serve if you don’t meet the qualifications.”
Coffey explained how the stigmas surrounding mental health within the church and society are changing and how beneficial this can be for missionary service.
“It’s kind of one of those things that isn’t really talked about that much,” Coffey continued. “Not just in the church, but as a society in general, and the fact that they’re acknowledging that this is definitely a significant factor in your ability to serve. There are a lot of missionaries who do go home early because they face mental illness and they have issues when they’re out.”
Martins went on to talk about various missionaries within his mission who dealt with mental illnesses that weren’t taken care of before they left for the MTC that then lead to bigger problems.
“One thing I told missionaries is that there is no blame to be placed on those who end their missions early,” Martins said. “They have served to the utmost of their physical or emotional abilities. Their service will be just as valuable as those who served full term.
“You will not lose any of the blessings. Whatever time period you serve for, the Lord will accept your offer. I have no doubt that the Lord will say, ‘It’s good enough. You did everything that you could.’”
Coffey said, “Mental illness is a real thing and you can’t just pray it away sometimes. That’s what a lot of people think sometimes, like, ‘Oh, you’re sad and depressed? Just keep praying and read your scriptures and God will make you feel happy.’
“That’s not really addressing the core issue there. I think the more the church addresses that these are genuine concerns people have, the more it’s going to give us an opportunity to reach out and lift up our brothers and sisters around us. [This] breeds a much healthier environment for everyone to be open to receiving help and looking to help [each] other as well.”
Kessler said, “Realizing that, ‘Okay, if these are the certain requirements that I need to reach, then I should probably draw attention to the fact these are things my potential companion could have if I don’t experience it.’ Understanding can help. I had a companion who had bipolar disorder. He didn’t have anyone to trust, and I didn’t know anything about the issues. It wasn’t until taking classes that I recognized he definitely had bipolar disorder.
“I really appreciate that the church is starting to start a dialog about that. It’s a lot more helpful to try and help people find counseling and things for these [issues] beforehand so they have tools and things to help them out if they do continue to serve a mission later on.”
Martins concluded these questions would prove beneficial to missionary service for the church. “In the future, I see those who have a desire to serve a full-time mission, but who have physical or mental health issues, they’ll still serve, but they’ll have taken care of those issues beforehand.”
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Dec. 2017 print issue.