LDS missionaries receive tremendous mental and emotional health benefits when they serve missions. Many of the mission rules are ‘small and simple things‘ that strengthen and support mental and emotional health, both according to Church doctrine and according to mental health professionals.
It’s important to note that some young men and women do have emerging, recurring, or worsening mental and emotional health issues that disrupt or prevent full-time missionary service. Despite faith, prayers, and strict obedience to mission rules, some missionaries return home early because of severe challenges with issues such as anxiety and depression. It’s so important to not judge or criticize early returned missionaries or young adults who couldn’t serve a traditional mission.
This article isn’t intended to imply that a mission is ‘a cure’ for mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety, and prospective missionaries should strive to have any health issue well-managed before applying for a mission.
The main intent of this article is to point out that many of the mission rules and practices are in keeping with standard professional advice for managing most existing mental health challenges. For missionaries who don’t struggle with any significant mental health issues, these practices will only make your mental and emotional health even better!
1. Missionaries are early to bed, early to rise
During a phase of life when many young adults aren’t practicing the best sleep habits, missionaries are going to bed at 10:30 pm and getting up at 6:30 am. Getting enough sleep (but not too much!) is standard good health advice, as is the practice of going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday. For individuals who have struggled with mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, staying on a good sleep schedule is crucial.
2. Missionaries exercise
While some missionaries have a car for parts of their mission, most missionaries are walking or biking every single day. Missionaries are also supposed to exercise for 1/2 hour in the morning. There are piles and piles of research supporting the benefits of regular exercise to combat stress, depression, and anxiety. Whether a person has struggled with mental health issues or not in the past, there’s nothing quite like getting moving to promote good mental, emotional, and physical health!
3. Missionaries connect with others
Some very standard good mental health advice for everyone, and especially for those who struggle with anxiety or depression, is to continue reaching out to others. The tendency to isolate oneself and play hermit when under stress is associated with increased depression and anxiety. Connecting with others and engaging in volunteer work are usually recommended for good mental health. If there’s one thing missionaries always have, it’s opportunities to serve and connect with others.
4. Missionaries avoid alcohol, nicotine, and coffee/tea
Missionaries follow the guidelines of the ‘Word of Wisdom‘, which includes not drinking alcohol, coffee/tea, or using products containing nicotine. All of these substances interfere with quality sleep, and have other deleterious mental and physical health effects. For individuals without any significant health issues, avoiding these substances only improves their well-being. For those who are maintaining recovery or managing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, keeping the Word of Wisdom is doubly important.
5. Missionaries pray
Prayer provides a means to communicate with Heavenly Father. During prayer, missionaries (indeed, all of us) can connect with God, and feel his love. It’s a time to ask for help with problems, and to feel reassured of God’s support. Scientists who study mental health don’t comment much on whether God exists or not, but they do acknowledge prayer as a form of relaxation, which is crucial to good mental health. Relaxation practices such as prayer can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, ease depression, and reduce insomnia according to the American Psychological Association.