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My experience with getting mental health help on an LDS mission

In the spring of 1968, I took a bunk in the old Language Training Mission in Provo and went to work learning Spanish. I was heading for Bolivia to be a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I nearly never got there.

The LTM was almost the end of me.

The LTM was language boot camp, where the “drill sergeants” were kind and the chow a cut above.

Still, it was the most harrowing three months of my life.

I had no clue how other elders and sisters coped.

At night, I’d sit by the window, look up at the old state mental hospital and think, “Get a room ready, guys. I'm on my way.”

When we were told to buy a set of scriptures in Spanish, I refused. Why waste the money? I’d lose my mind before learning Spanish.

When I teared up in class, I blamed allergies.

My letters home were filled with sunshine while my nights were filled with Apocalyptic beasts.

I was preaching heaven while living in hell.

Every day I considered grabbing a Greyhound to nowhere.

I can be cavalier about all that today. I’m still here. But at the time I was reeling.

I hovered daily on the lip of the abyss.

I wanted to vanish from the planet.

For such reasons, I took great interest in the recent Deseret News article about missionaries who struggle with mental issues. Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, a general authority Seventy, stressed that helping missionaries cope should be a group effort (see "Elder Schwitzer offers six ideas for helping missionaries with mental illnesses," published June 16 on deseretnews.com). He offered ways to keep missionaries from feeling isolated. I especially liked this comment:

“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.”

I was lucky.

I found help.

One night, while fidgeting with the bedpost on my bunk, I pulled off the metal cap. A string was attached to the cap. I pulled it. Then pulled some more. Finally, at the end, I found a little note.

The note read, “Save me, elder!”

The next day I made an appointment with one of the LTM counselors.

It was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. It made a difference. Eventually, I began to surface.

Many elders of that era refused to seek help. They toughed it out and paid a heavy price.

Today, things have changed for the better. Thanks to Elder Schwitzer and others like him, perhaps some elder, like me, will now get help before reaching the end of his rope, or at least the end of the string in his bedpost.