I am often asked about the possibility of missionary service for young people who face physical, mental, or emotional challenges. These members can sometimes serve full-time or church-service missions, though in some circumstances they will not be able to do so. Below I will give some general direction and guidelines, but please be aware that every case is unique and your local priesthood leaders (bishop and stake president) are best suited to provide definitive answers to these questions.
Missionary Work is Demanding
Missionary work is physically, mentally, or emotionally demanding. The daily mission schedule requires missionaries to put in long hours, seven days a week, which can cause physical, mental, and emotional drain. Please check out some of my previous articles on working hard and preparing emotionally for a mission.
Young men and women who have serious physical, mental, or emotional challenges that would prevent them from serving effectively do not generally serve full-time missions. Local priesthood leaders are counselled not to recommend members for missionary service if they suffer from serious emotional instability, are severely physically impaired, or are dependent on others to perform normal daily tasks.
Clearing Up Issues Prior to Service
Potential missionaries who have previously had significant physical, mental, or emotional challenges must be stabilized and confirmed to be fully functional before their bishop will recommended them for full-time missionary service. A member who is dependent on medication for emotional stability may serve a mission provided that he or she has demonstrated the ability to fully function in a demanding mission-like environment with the use of the medication. Such candidates must also commit to continue taking the medications throughout their mission unless otherwise authorized by a doctor. On the mission application form, the candidate or bishop should include a list of medications the potential missionary is taking.
Experience has shown that young people who are significantly overweight experience many difficulties dealing with the physical demands of a mission. These difficulties also affect companions and mission leaders, therefore, bishops and stake presidents are counselled to consider whether individuals’ weight will adversely affect their service before recommending them for a mission. I don’t know of any specific weight guidelines, but potential missionaries, parents, and leaders should counsel with local medical professionals during the mission application process or call the Church Missionary Department if they have further questions on any of these issues related to physical, mental, and emotional health.
Local priesthood leaders are counselled not to ask the Church for exceptions to these rules. They are instructed not to recommend young people for full-time missionary service unless they can do so without reservations.
If a member has serious physical, mental, and emotional challenges, they are honorably excused from missionary service. Such individuals should not be made to feel unworthy or inadequate before the Lord. These members should be encouraged to continue to pursue important milestones in life such as an education, career development, and temple preparation. If these individuals continue to have a strong desire to serve a mission, the bishop and stake president may be able to help them identify local options for Church service including Church-service missionary opportunities.