Photo Illustration: Brooke Morrill, Photo Director, @brookemorrill
For an LDS missionary who returned home early, there’s often little comfort to be found. There can be overwhelming shame for the former missionaries, family members can be ashamed and religious leaders can be unsympathetic. Too often for these young men and women there’s nowhere they can turn.
A recent study done on Early Returned Missionaries by UVU professor Dr. Kristine Doty showed that 73 percent of the missionaries who came home early experienced feelings of failure.
“We had an age range from 19-65 and even the older people said they still struggled with it,” said Doty describing the 348 ERM’s who were surveyed.
Coming home early is often stigmatized. A decreasing, but still prevalent misconception among Latter-day saints is that missionaries who come early do so because of an unresolved transgression or disobedience.
However, out of the 348 ERM’s Dr. Doty surveyed only 12 percent came home due to what her study defined as “unresolved transgression,” and only 11 percent due to “transgression.”
The overwhelming percentage was the 70 percent who came home due to mental or physical health issues. In spite of the often legitimate reasons for coming home early and lack of choice in whether or not they do, ERM’s often face an awkward or even difficult time interacting with others.
Often people don’t know what to say or they say hurtful things. Most missionaries will say transitioning back to “the real world” is tricky, and ERM’s have to transfer back to real life ever sooner than expected, often with very little warning—or support—before they leave the mission field.
Because this transition can be hard, especially for ERM’s who may be suffering feelings of failure for not completing the whole 18-24 months, UVU Health Services has organized a support group for ERM’s on Wednesdays at noon for about 45 minutes in SC 222.
“This is a group where ERM’s can go to meet other people who have gone through similar experiences,” Doty said. “That’s what this is about, alleviating pain and discomfort.”
The group began in one of Alpine’s LDS stakes and it was designed as a seven-step program by an early- returned missionary. After it’s success there, the UVU Student Health Services invited the ERM to come and lead the program on campus where it was modified to fit the needs of the school.
“This is not a therapy group, it’s a support group,” said Dr. Edward Martinelli, a therapist from Student Health Services. “It’s set up in a way that’s more of a support group where coming in at any point will allow you to kind of get benefit for it. You can stay for as long as you want.”
The meetings are open to everyone who needs them, whether it be an early returned missionary whose head is still spinning, an ERM who now has a better handle on life back at home, or someone falling anywhere in between.
“We just want the kids to know they’re not going to be judged, Doty said. “We are there to love them and help them transition and move forward.”