The purpose of this chapter is to help you understand depression and to assist you in completing the missionary work that you set out to perform. Fortunately, not every missionary will suffer from depression. The Church, its leaders, and your mission president have prepared and put into place many resources designed to reduce the likelihood that you will ever experience this illness.


What follows are simple working descriptions of some common forms of depression. Knowing about the types of depression will help you to identify and resolve them more quickly while serving your mission.


It is important for you to involve your mission president early on and then every step of the way as you overcome depression. It is also important that you communicate with your companion, mission leaders, and your family.


Depression is a very common medical condition.   Many, many millions of people currently suffer from depression, including missionaries. Missionaries with depression often lose their ability to manage their daily missionary activities. So how do you recognize and treat depression? Understanding what depression looks and feels like are the first steps in its successful treatment. Hesitating and denying the presence of the symptoms of depression may permit it to grow worse. Much like any health condition—prevention and treatment are the keys to staying in the best of health.


What is Depression?


The most common depression is called classic depression. In fact, it is often referred to simply as “depression.” It is more than mere sadness. It requires that on a daily basis for at least two weeks you have had at least five of the nine symptoms listed below:


  • An unusually sad mood
  • A reduced ability to experience pleasure or interest in your day-to-day activities
  • A change in your appetite that often causes a change in your weight
  • Having significant trouble with sleeping
  • Persisting fatigue or loss of your physical energy
  • A change in the pace of your speech and/or physical movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • A reduced ability to think and concentrate
  • Having recurring thoughts about death
  • Changes in your diet and sleep habits
  • Instead of being unable to sleep, you want to sleep all of the time.
  • Rather than losing your appetite, you want to eat everything in sight — and you gain the weight to prove it.
  • More than simply moving or speaking slowly, you feel as though your arms and legs are carrying heavy weights — like walking through a swimming pool
  • More than simple feelings of guilt or hopelessness, you begin to have the sense that others are persistently rejecting or criticizing you.


If you have 5 out of 9 of these symptoms, you probably have depression. Talk with your mission president. He might refer you to a person trained in treating depression. They might start you on several different successful therapies. Fortunately, depression for the most part is responsive to treatment. Some of the treatment plans include:

Talk therapy

  • Light therapy to kick-start your brain into making more natural “feel good” chemical
  • Medicine such as vitamin D or other minerals, as well as antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications

Some forms of depression can go undetected or misunderstood because of the uniqueness of their presentation. Just remember, they all have the same basic symptoms that have been described above. What follows are a few details concerning specific types of depression.


Adjustment Reaction (Homesickness)


This means a missionary is having difficulty adjusting to a new situation. Homesickness is a common type of adjustment reaction depression. It is particularly stressful for a missionary. Being away from your home, friends, and family puts into motion the symptoms of depression. If the situation goes away, or if you learn to adapt to the changes it presents, the depressive symptoms go away as well. One friend in this situation is time. As time goes on, you learn to make new friends and develop a new support system, and you will make a new home. The feelings of depression will then subside.   Write letters or send emails home to get support from family and friends. Communicate frequently with your mission president and mission leaders to get their perspective, as they have been through it before. Live your mission one month at time – so to speak – until the symptoms have subsided. Change is the key here, even if it takes a few weeks or months.


Sometimes you are unable to change the situation – like dealing with a difficult transfer or companionship. This is another type of adjustment reaction.   If you choose to focus on all that you cannot change, you may begin to foster feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.


On the other hand, if you focus on what you can change, you can improve your situation and your symptoms will go away. For example, you can improve your interpersonal communication skills. As you make this change, your situation will improve as you learn to communicate better with your companion. This process will help you to regain your sense of control and reduce your stress.


Learning how to regain your sense of internal control over external events that you thought were out of your control is the key to overcoming the symptoms of depression caused by an adjustment reaction.


Learning such positive and effective coping skills may require some effort on your part. You can draw from experiences that you had before your mission.   Keeping open communication with supportive family, companions and your mission president can add to this process. At times, reading and careful study will assist you in learning how others have accomplished this change of perspective.


Should these efforts prove inadequate in moving you forward in your work to adapt to the situation, your mission president might have you talk with a counselor who can assist you in this process.


Atypical Depression


The key feature of an atypical depression is a symptom known as “mood reactivity.” Simply put, “mood reactivity” means that your depressed mood temporarily lifts when you have something good happen or anticipate something positive will happen (e.g., being around missionary friends or having something that you have hoped and worked for turn out). In classic depression, your mood stays depressed even when things around you are pleasant and going right.


Seasonal Depression


Seasonal depression refers to a depression that comes on at the same time or season of the year. This often happens during the winter months if you’re serving in a place where there is decreased daylight during the winter season.


The treatment of seasonal depression can involve the use of special lights. The lights mimic normal morning sunlight (without damaging your eyes). You awake one hour before the day’s scheduled sunrise and peer into the light. Over the subsequent week your brain is tricked into thinking that it is spring or summer.


The result of this trick is a remission of your depression. It occurs because your brain is prompted (by the light therapy) to resume making normal amounts of materials that build, store and transport your natural “feel-good chemicals.” You should continue on the light therapy until the season draws to its natural close.




Depression is common. It has many forms, some of which are discussed above. These details are for your use in discerning how best to recognize and treat your depression.


Use this knowledge to prevent and treat depression and to move forward in protecting your emotional health. This information is meant to supplement the countless resources already put into place by the Church for your benefit. Many of those resources are built into the mission rules and guidelines.


The Church and its leaders are well aware that your mission may be potentially stressful at times. They are likewise sensitive to the fact that you may experience disappointment and despair during your mission service. For this purpose they have and will continue to provide you with resources to accomplish the mission on which you have embarked.