What do you do when you or your companion doesn’t feel like getting out of bed? What do you do if talking to strangers fills you with dread? What do you do when you are sad or emotional (or emotionless) and don’t know how it started or how to fix it? These kinds of scenarios could happen to you or your companion. It’s tough facing depression of any degree as a missionary because it feels disobedient to have little desire to leave the apartment and do the work. Mission rules of staying within “sight and sound” of your companion means that if one person is depressed, the other person can’t just go and do their work without them. Both of you can feel stuck.
What can you do as a missionary to combat a companion's depression when home feels so far away? Here are just three ideas to get you started.
The worst thing you can do is misinterpret someone’s emotions. Missionaries with depression hardly ever do it on purpose to get attention or to have an excuse to avoid missionary work. People react to trials and hard times differently, but depression is a real thing. You might think, “I’m going through the same thing or harder things and yet I’m totally fine. Why is this person giving up so easily?” Instead, take a page out of Christ’s book and show empathy.
Empathy is synonymous with charity, and it’s stronger and more helpful than sympathy. The latter means to recognize that someone is sad or has strong emotions. Empathy is physically being with someone in their hard times and “mourning with those that mourn.” It’s not solving the problem, but telling that person their feelings are valid and deserve attention.
How do you do this? The first step is to probably do a lot of listening. If they are comfortable, encourage them to tell you want they think might be triggering their depression. Oftentimes, people can experience depression and not know why; it’s like a heavy cloud that won’t go away.
Once you listen, express genuine love for them. All you can really do is tell them that no matter what they think of themselves, you have love and respect for your companion.
Don’t Play Expert
It’s all too easy to confuse depression with discouragement. Every missionary feels discouragement at some time on their mission, so you might feel like her situation is within your realm of experience. Unfortunately, it might be a bigger problem that is beyond your temporal and spiritual training.
Having empathy and being a good friend doesn’t mean you have to solve her problems. Meaning, it’s not your responsibility to patch up her life so they can immediately be ready to serve again. Yes, pray for your companion or suggest they get a priesthood blessing, but depression of all forms deserves to be analyzed and diagnosed by a professional.
You or your companion receive these services through your mission president and his wife. You or your companion should contact them and talk about the problem. Your mission president will likely provide spiritual guidance, but he will also have connections within your mission to help get to the root of her depression.
Keep Your Chin Up
When your companion is suffering from any level of depression, it’s easy to feel down, too. I remember when one of my companions was experiencing real depression, I mistook it for anger—that somehow I was disappointing or annoying her, or basically being the cause of her depression.
It turned into resentment and hurt feelings on my part. I thought I was having depression, too, because I doubted my abilities as a missionary. As you can imagine, we had to work extra hard to have love for each other and keep the Spirit with us as we tried to ignore the big problem that wasn’t getting due attention.
Do what you can to find peace. Your mission president and his wife are vital resources to talk to when things are rough. Once my companion got the medication she needed, she was able to serve at a higher capacity and see her mission through. We were able to stay friends even after we were transferred to different cities and eventually returned home.
Depression is a real problem that missionaries will face. You might experience it to some degree yourself. The key is knowing how to communicate with love so you find the remedy you need. Instead of suppressing your emotions, acknowledge that they are real.
What are some ways you or people you admire have overcome depression? What do you wish people knew about what depression is or what it means to be depressed?