UVU Study Reports On The Reasons For And Reactions To Early Returned Missionaries
October 30, 2013
For Immediate Release
University Marketing & Communications: Whitney Wilkinson
A study recently completed by researchers at Utah Valley University has found that 73 percent of men and women who returned home early from their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced feelings of failure, and the majority came home for medical or mental health reasons.
More in-depth findings of the study will be presented to the public on Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. in the UVU Library auditorium, followed by a Q-and-A session.
“The LDS mission represents an important rite of passage for young Mormons,” said Kris Doty, chair of UVU’s Department of Behavioral Science and leader of the research team, which was made up of UVU students from the behavioral science department. “When missionaries come home early, regardless of the reason, we find that many experience feelings of failure.”
For example, researchers found that most early returning missionaries were well-prepared, willing and worthy to serve, but more than half of the 348 individuals who were surveyed reported that they received poor or indifferent receptions from members of their home congregations.
“They were typical of any missionary heading into the Missionary Training Center,” Doty said,” but something happened that caused their service to be derailed, and upon returning home they encountered people who didn’t know how to react to them sensitively.”
The idea for the project stemmed from a conversation Doty had with a student regarding his experience returning home early from his mission.
“He had come home early, and I had loved ones that had as well,” she said. “We wondered if their common experiences were shared by other early returning missionaries, so we decided to study the issue.”
As part of the process, student researchers shared their results with the research section of the LDS Church.
“I can tell you that this study is some of the best engaged learning I have ever seen,” Doty said. “Our students were working with five professional statisticians — getting advice, clarifying things, interacting. They had a chance to see how what they’ve been learning translates into the real world.”
Senior Thomas Ash, a member of the research team said of his work with the study, “Working with everyone was such a wonderful and enlightening experience. We all hope our study will be viewed by others with sincere understanding and love.”
In addition to the presentation at UVU, Doty will spend the next few months writing up the study’s findings and submitting the information to journals. Many community members and local professionals have already expressed interest in the study — several community therapists and LDS congregations have asked for more information.
“This is a prevalent concern in our communities,” Doty said. “People just don’t know what to say or do because it’s out of the social norm. We want to start a meaningful dialogue to help others understand the effect this has on these kids, so we can change the reactions from awkward to accepting.”