Serving - and Finishing - a Mission With Depression

Caroline wrote a series of posts about sister missionaries who come home due to mental health issues and other struggles, and I can empathize with those sisters, but I think there’s another side of the story that needs to be told: the sister who finishes her full-time mission despite health challenges.

One of my old roommates, the former Sister Anderson, was diagnosed with depression while in college. She told me one of the hardest things to deal with as a missionary was simply getting out of bed every morning. When missionary work was slow or she was having trouble getting along with a companion, her condition became more difficult to handle, even with medication.

When I asked Sister Anderson how she finished her 18 months of service despite those challenges, she shared with me what she’d learned about overcoming mental health issues and serving a successful mission.

Trust Your Mission President

In her very first interview, Sister Anderson was upfront with her Mission President about having depression and taking medication for it. The President, however, seemed unconcerned. “Just work hard and it won’t matter,” he said.

Sister Anderson was a little offended by his attitude, feeling that he didn’t truly understand what it was like for her. Because of this firm but less than warm reception, Sister Anderson felt reluctant to confide in him, but she kept him updated regularly.

After about six months in the mission field, Sister Anderson’s depression worsened considerably because of issues she was having with her companion. She talked to the Mission President about it, and he recommended that she see a counselor with LDS Family Services. Sister Anderson had been to counselors and therapists before, and she felt quite negatively about the experience, so she ignored the President’s suggestion for weeks. However, she finally prayed about his advice and received the answer that she should go.

“Seeing the counselor my Mission President recommended was the best thing I could have done,” Sister Anderson told me. “I should have trusted his revelation sooner.”

Meet With an LDS Counselor

Counselors with LDS Family Services, Sister Anderson explained to me, are different from anyone in the worldly profession. Her counselor talked openly and frequently about her condition from the eternal perspective of Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation. Instead of being treated with more medications and psychoanalytic exercises, her counselor prescribed scriptures and words from modern prophets.

One of the scriptures that helped Sister Anderson most was Ether 12:27 where the Lord says, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." This scripture taught Sister Anderson that her depression was a weakness designed not to tear her down but to help her turn to the Savior for help. The Lord wouldn’t take away all of her struggles, but He would help make her strong enough to get through them if she followed Him in faith.

Ask Your Parents to Be Strong When You Aren’t

Sister Anderson told me that her parents were another source of strength as she dealt with depression. Her mother echoed President Gordon B. Hinckley’s father and told her to “forget herself and go to work.” Without letting her make any excuses for not giving it her all, Sister Anderson’s mother emphasized her commitment to serve the Lord. “I’m grateful that my mom was supportive but not enabling,” Sister Anderson told me. “I hope all future sister missionaries ask their parents to be strong when they aren’t!”

Forget Yourself and Go to Work

Sister Anderson found that she was happiest on her mission when she kept busy. Even when she and her companion had few lessons to teach, she set a schedule and stuck to it. The important thing for her was to remember her purpose, be positive, and remember that the Lord had called her to this mission for a reason.

Depression, Sister Anderson’s counselor taught her, is essentially a condition that makes you concerned about yourself more than others. In order to combat it, you have to find ways to be selfless and focus on how to serve. With that attitude, it was easier for Sister Anderson to turn her attention outward. She found great joy in sharing spiritual experiences with everyone they talked to, and she later saw the fruits of those efforts. Several investigators who later got baptized expressed that those shared experiences played a huge rule in their budding testimonies.

When I asked Sister Anderson what she would change about her mission if she could, she told me she didn’t have any regrets because she learned from them. “It’s not going to be perfect,” she said. “Most missionaries get sad because their missions don't live up to their expectations. Learn what Heavenly Father sent you there to learn, and you'll be successful even if you come home early.”

What do you think about Sister Anderson’s advice? We’d love to hear your comments and experiences in the comments below.