Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
112: Missionary Mental Health:  Dr Marlene Payne

112: Missionary Mental Health: Dr Marlene Payne

Marlene Payne M.D is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has spent significant periods of her professional career treating missionaries who present on their missions with a variety of mental disorders from bipolar, to OCD, to depression and even body dysmorphic disorder.  What she has discovered is that most mental disorders are treatable and that missionaries with the appropriate  interventions can go on to serve successful and fulfilling missions.  Missions are stressful contexts at best, but where there is an underlying mental disorder missions often trigger these illnesses.

In this podcast Marlene discusses the major mental disorders that she has dealt with in her time as a mental health liaison/psychiatrist for missions in the Washington DC and Virginia area.  She also introduces us to her book Mission Possible’ that serves as a guide for parents, mission presidents and ecclesiastical leaders who have pastoral care of these young and sometimes mentally vulnerable missionaries.



  1. Jennifer G

    This podcast was fascinating. I listened to it four hours ago and am still shaking. Perhaps I’m just not used to hearing a faithful view of things anymore, but this was simply unreal.

    It’s hard to believe that being emotionally cut off from friends, family, and sexual adventure in one’s late adolescent years; forced into a regimented, ascetic lifestyle; made to peddle an increasingly irrelevant message is NOT deleterious to a young missionary’s health. Are you kidding me?

    No mission presidents have ever had mental health problems. Sister missionaries are not affected by mental illness. Serving and finishing a mission at all costs is the best solution, always. Okay…

    1. Gina Colvin

      Thanks Jennifer! Well I asked the questions but I respect that this is Marlene’s experience and remember that she works across a couple of missions in the DC area so likely hasn’t experienced the depth of it. I’ve heard of mission presidents who had flipped their lids particularly in countries culturally dissimilar to their own. We had a mission president in our area several years back who had to be released because of mental illness and a subsequent marriage break up. I would love to see a more general interest in understanding the breadth of mental illness without the need to defend missions so much that the few who absolutely shouldn’t be serving don’t feel the pressure to go.

  2. Rob

    Very nice woman, but seriously in her own world. I am happy for the missionaries that she was able to help, but I know that her approach would not have worked for me at all on my mission. I would have felt as if I were consulting with a child, and would have sunk into an even deeper depression.

    I feel that the damage I sustained during my mission because of the rampant sexism of the programs coming from church headquarters would have been turned back on me and used as evidence that I was not faithful enough in some way. Her inability to even articulate problems unique to sister missionaries beyond stereotypical “relationship” issues illustrates a very conventional and simplistic mormon worldview in my opinion.

    But she is lucky that she feels so supported by the church, obviously finding peace in her cocoon. Those of us stripped raw by the experience would have found no succor there I’m afraid. Just the feeling that we were on our own, condemned by our complexity. But much worse the sense that even perceiving the problematic issues was a personal sin in some way. Grief and discontent seen as arising solely because of a personal spiritual deficiency.

    God forbid the reality that the church itself creates the problems and then blames the perceptive individual for articulating the resulting pain.

    1. Isaac

      Hey Rob,

      Many thanks for your honest appraisal of the podcast. I myself feel that way about the help offered for local missionaries in Africa, especially for self-sponsored ones. There is zero awareness of the need to focus on mental health awareness of such missionaries, and the typical scarcity of resources in Africa makes it difficult for it to be taken as a serious topic. I am still searching for appropriate resources the mental healthcare of such missionaries. Kindly feel free to point me out in the right direction.

  3. Martine

    i liked it a lot even if I had issues with the very believing part of her especially that it’s so important to finish. Because when you feel that way, no matter what, the missionary is going to feel that they failed. But I liked the recognition and identification of all the mental issues missionaries may have to deal with and the fact that, at least in some missions, there’s help and support for them.

    But yes, her super positive attitude about the mission being the best thing for young people, ever, was annoying.

    Also, if it’s good for them to be on missions in their late teens because it keeps them from making certain mistakes common to that age group since the front cortex is not fully developed until age 25, I’m pretty sure having them come home at age 20 with raging sexual hormones that have been repressed all that time is not a great time or way to go into marriage and yet, that’s what’s happening.

  4. Ruth Geitgey

    I just listened to this podcast this morning and was so appreciative of what Marlene Payne shared and her kindness and caring. I decided to Google her and learn more about her. Sadly, I learned that last summer she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is late April now and the CaringBridge journal says she is the near the end. She was a true saint and I am so sad to hear she and her family are dealing with this as well as knowing there will not be new books, sessions, etc., that reach out and so kindly, generously bless others, especially the missionaries.

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