Linda Wilson, a mental health professional, and Timothy Sloan, a former LDS mission president of the Ecuador Quito Mission, talked about ways to help early returned and returned missionaries mental health while speaking at the 2016 Women’s Conference on Thursday.
In her address, Wilson said that missionaries who come home early can experience profound sense of guilt and failure. She explained that although mental health and physical wellness issues may be the cause of their return home, these missionaries still face the fear of being judged, the fear of the future, and the fear of disappointing God.
“The missionary’s biggest fear is you,” Wilson said to the audience of LDS women, who may have sons or daughters out serving a mission. Wilson continued by saying that returned missionaries with health issues are worried about being judged by family, friends, and ward members who sent them off cheering them on.
To remedy these fears, Wilson suggested to celebrate the success of returned missionaries. Because the missionary may only see failure and incomplete dreams, Wilson believes that it is important for ward members to respect the missionary’s service by recognizing that his or her sacrifice matters.
Early returned missionaries may also fear for their future activity within the church. According to Wilson, a study of 348 early returned missionaries discovered that over half of them felt that they were treated poorly or indifferently by the home wards. Thirty four percent fell into inactivity, and a third of them never returned, she said.
A member of the ward can support the missionaries by helping them feel that they are the same as other members, by inviting them to church activities, asking them to teach a class, and including them in a non-threatening mission conversations.
Early returned missionaries face the feeling of disappointing God, said Wilson. She compared their grief with Joseph Smith’s account in Doctrine and Covenants Section 3. Despite Joseph Smith’s agony and feeling of inadequacy, God said “Thou are still chosen,” she explained.
Just as the father in the parable of Prodigal Son who ran and embraced the return of his son, we as a member of the church can reach out to struggling missionaries in a compassionate and loving way Wilson said.
Sloan spoke about returned missionaries who need strengthening in order to not fall into inactivity.
The former mission president explained that regardless of the circumstances, every returned missionaries needs to feel welcomed, loved, and a sense of belonging back home, which can be achieved using three goals.
“One, to help our returned missionaries establish a foundation of faith. Two, to help them develop purpose. And three, all of us here as parents will always have a perfect brightness of hope for our children, ” Sloan said.
“The children are the largest group of investigators in this church,” said Sloan quoting Elder Bradley D. Foster’s from a General Conference Address. Parents must encourage the children to experience the conversion themselves to teach powerfully during the missionary service and remain true to their faith after.
“Just because things are not going well right now for the returned missionaries who left the church doesn’t mean that something good isn’t happening,” Sloan said. Parents’ faithful activity in the church and sincere concern has the power to move a child’s heart.