Seventy Outlines 6 Considerations for Helping Missionaries with Mental Illnesses

Contributed By Sarah Harris, Church News staff writer

  • 20 June 2017

General Authority Seventy Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, Assistant Executive Director in the Missionary Department and chair of the Missionary Medical Health Services Division, speaks to LDS Family Services about helping missionaries with mental health issues at a system-wide seminar on June 15 at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.  Photo by Sarah Harris.

Article Highlights

  • 1. Focus on the companionship.
  • 2. Prioritize safety.
  • 3. Don’t forget the importance of screening.
  • 4. Include the family.
  • 5. Prioritize the well-being of the candidate.
  • 6. Don’t forget the vision.

“We are preparing candidates for life and for success within the context of their personal life. We must always think beyond the call or the decision.” —Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, General Authority Seventy

Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, General Authority Seventy, listed six guidelines to consider when managing and treating missionaries who suffer from mental health issues in an LDS Family Services system-wide seminar at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on June 15.

Elder Schwitzer, who is an Assistant Executive Director in the Missionary Department and chair of the Missionary Medical Health Services Division, said he hopes these items will help those working for LDS Family Services as they evaluate and assist missionaries.

1. Focus on the companionship

The first idea Elder Schwitzer discussed was that the missionary unit or companionship is what’s important—even more than the individual missionary. He said just focusing efforts on one entity within this unit oftentimes doesn’t treat the real problems or lead to an adequate resolution.

“When one companion is down with mental challenges, the other one will be impacted, so you have to look at the treatment of the missionary and the understanding of the missionary in the setting of the companionship,” Elder Schwitzer said.

2. Prioritize safety

Secondly, Elder Schwitzer said the Missionary Department is more concerned with a missionary’s mental condition than his or her specific diagnosis. He said a missionary’s functionality is important, which the department determines by considering whether or not they can work the schedule, protect themselves, and protect their companion.

“If a missionary can do those three things, we can often make adjustments in their life, in their schedule, that will promote their success,” Elder Schwitzer said. “If they can’t do that, we really can’t make many adjustments in the field.”

3. Don’t forget the importance of screening

The third point Elder Schwitzer brought up was the importance of screening missionaries before they serve. He said screening has been a practice in the kingdom of God for thousands of years and told the scripture story of Gideon, who did screening before he selected soldiers to fight for Israel.

4. Include the family

His fourth guideline emphasized that the decisions made after screening missionaries not only impact the missionary, but their family as well. Elder Schwitzer said the priesthood leadership of these families should be included in this decision-making process.

“We live in a day and age in which leadership is constantly being questioned on every level, both in the Church and out of the Church, and so our leaders are oftentimes pressured into recommending a missionary,” Elder Schwitzer said. “The problem is that they don’t realize the impact that it has on others.”

He said in discussions with stake presidents who are referring missionaries who have had concerning mental health issues in the past, he sometimes asks how these stake presidents would like the missionary they are recommending to be their son or daughter’s companion, in order to help them gauge how well they might do in the field.

5. Prioritize the well-being of the candidate

Fifth, Elder Schwitzer said the goal with youth in this missionary effort is not just to provide a strong missionary force.

“We are preparing candidates for life and for success within the context of their personal life,” he said. “We must always think beyond the call or the decision.”

6. Don't forget the vision

Elder Schwitzer’s final point was in regards to early-returned missionaries, who are sometimes labeled because they struggled in the field.

“Let us not forget the vision,” he said. “Just because a person struggles in a situation that’s very narrow, very confining, very challenging, doesn’t mean that they can’t be a success in an ongoing manner in life, and we need to give them that vision.”

In a question and answer session following Elder Schwitzer’s remarks, he mentioned some developments in the Missionary Department that he hopes will improve things in the future.

These include working with stake presidents to develop alternative missionary assignments, which would allow service missionaries to succeed by doing different tasks from regular proselyting missionary work.

“We hope that as we start to see these expand, that more and more young people who would otherwise be honorably excused will avail themselves of this opportunity and continue on their dream to serve a mission,” Elder Schwitzer said.

The end goal in counseling missionaries is not the mission but the person and his or her future, according to Elder Schwitzer.

“Our goal is to have them find themselves and identify themselves as sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father,” Elder Schwitzer said.