Here's a guest post from an awesome friend of mine. In this post, he highlights one of the major themes of this blog: acceptance.

So this is going to be a little bit different than the usual posts on this blog. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dylan Cahoon. I’m a 20 year old white male that was raised in Farmington Utah since birth, and I am a minority. Obviously not racially, but a religious minority. I’m one of what seems like the 20 non LDS people in Utah. No, I’m not anti-Mormon, a question that I get a lot more frequently than you’d imagine when I tell people that I’m non LDS. Many of my best friends growing up were Mormon, I never did miss any of my friend’s farewells, and I have been great friends with Rachel for about 8 years now. We were hanging out with a group of friends this past weekend and the subject of her blog came up and she thought that since this is a blog about depression and early-return missionaries, it would be interesting to get some stories from the perspective of someone that is outside of that culture, and I completely agreed. Also I am an English Major, so I’m obligated to write on a blog or else all the cool English kids will shun me.
                I’m just going to tell a couple of stories, and I am going to leave everyone’s names out of it to retain anonymity. The first is of a friend that I had in High School. This friend was raised Mormon, however he personally fell away from the church. In his senior year he broke up with his girlfriend, and turned to alcohol. He had stopped believing and wanted nothing to do with the church; that is until his family started talking to him. His family did not take the traditional route through encouragement, but rather took a more threatening approach. They told him that if he did not go on a mission that he would be written out of the will (the family is worth well over a million dollars) and he would be kicked out of the house. But if he did go on a mission then they would pay for his college in full and buy him a new car the day he got back. As you probably guessed, he is on a full time mission, however I think you would agree with me that he did not leave for the right reasons. I am happy to say that now that he is out there he is doing fantastic and has turned his life around, but it was all forced upon him. From what I understand it’s the spirit that is supposed to guide you to go on a mission, but it was his family for this friend. I honestly believe that had they just given him a few more months and just talked to him that he would have chosen to go on the mission, but because they could not just accept him they forced him into something that he did not believe in at the time.
                My next story is one about myself. When I originally moved up to Utah State I moved up with 5 friends, all of which were Mormon and had accepted me long ago, and I consider them all some of my closest friends. Now every single one of them has left on a mission, and I have made some new great friends up here. Since my original roommates left in my 2 years I have had to live with 10 strangers, 7 of which were missionaries fresh off the mission. Of those seven, six of them started our first conversation with, “Are you LDS?”. And when I responded no, their response was always one of two things. Either, “Why not?”, or worse, “Oh, that’s too bad.” A lot of people would not think that that is a big deal, but imagine the situation reversed. What if I asked if you were Mormon and you said yes and I said, “Oh, that’s too bad.” I would be ostracized. Only one of those 7 RM’s replied with, “Oh that’s cool.” I have lived with him 3 more semesters and he’s probably my best friend in Logan now. Because instead of questioning my religious beliefs or trying to convert me on my first day knowing them, he accepted me for whom I was.

                This probably seems a little off topic for what this blog is usually about but don’t worry, I have finally reached my point. My roommates heard that I was a non-Mormon and immediately assumed that that made me a bad person. From what I’ve seen it’s often the same with missionaries that return early. Why is it that it is immediately assumed that something went wrong? And why is it that you feel the need to push and find out why? I have taken lessons from some of my close friends that are now home from their missions. However when my roommates that I didn’t even know tried to talk to me about it I completely shut them down. This is because I was not comfortable with them. The people that I had talked to about religion are people I’d been friends with for a few years and had already accepted me for who I was. It is the exact same with those who have returned from the missions early. If they have not told you what the reason was, chances are that they do not feel comfortable enough with you to tell you right then. The best thing that you can do is accept them, Accept that it is none of your business and move on. And when they do become comfortable with you they will most likely tell you. This is going to be a difficult analogy, but imagine you are a parent. You have multiple children and all of them leave one out for some reason or another. You wouldn’t condone that. So wouldn’t you imagine that God is the same way? We are all children of God, and I imagine that he would want everyone to accept each other just like you would, regardless of differences. So whether a person is black or white, Mormon or not Mormon, or served a full mission or returned early, give them acceptance. It is the godliest quality we have as human beings, and one that could potentially bring us all closer together as children of God.



The survey was a success! I've gotten a lot of good feedback and some awesome questions. Because I got so many good questions (and I want more!) I have decided to break it up into several Q&A posts. So if your question isn't answered in this post, hang tight. I'll get to it, I promise.

(If you want to submit a question, fill out this survey:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1o6oXl_7TAtcybnnsqznoGBQ5dW_cVCAgeunVDIHlxHw/viewform?usp=send_form )

Before I start ANY of these Q&A posts, I need to make a quick disclaimer. I am in no way a professional. I don't have a degree in anything, nor am I qualified to make a diagnosis, etc. The way I'm going to answer these questions is based purely on opinion and personal experience. Please don't take my opinion to be an absolute answer. Take it as a suggestion. 

Q: How do you ʺcheer upʺ someone with a mental illness? What's the best way to help?

A: This is an excellent question, probably one of the ones I get asked the most frequently. There is no set way to cheer someone up who has a mental illness. For each person, it is different. Let me explain it how one of my therapists explained it:

Most wheels have spokes. These spokes help keep the wheel round and from getting lopsided. The spokes need to be strong and straight. It is the same with our emotional balances. There are certain "spokes" that we need to make sure we are taking care of. (This goes for everyone, not just people with mental illnesses) Each person has different spokes. For example, some of my spokes are:

  • Spirituality: spending time in prayer, reading scriptures, attending the temple, and spending time to ponder.
  • Alone time: spending time just to be still and to be alone
  • Nutrition: if I eat like crap, I feel like crap. Also, if I don't eat enough, I get off-balanced
  • Physical activity: (I suck at this one) "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't." Exercise is good! Yay for being healthy
  • Music: I live off of good music. 
  • Writing: writing helps me cope with things. This blog, for example, helps me out a lot
  • Sleep: sleep is a huggggeee one for me. I need lots of sleep. Half of it is because my meds make me drowsy, but the other part is purely for my mental health. If I don't get enough sleep, my emotions get way off. I usually have to take at least an hour nap every day, even if I get 8 hours of sleep at night.
The best way to help cheer someone up is to find out their spokes. Find out what keeps them going. Look for those little things that cheer them up. It might take awhile, but it is worth it. For example, something that almost NEVER fails to cheer me up is antique store shopping. Why? I don't know. Everyone has something like that. As a friend, do your best to find those little things and go out of your way to do those things with or for your friend.

One thing you should NEVER do is criticize them for not being happy. Avoid things like, "Just look on the bright side!" "Or cheer up!" Those are the worst. I cringe typing them out. People with mental illnesses aren't choosing to be sad, and sometimes it just isn't possible to choose to be happy. 

Q: How do I know if I have depression or if it's just a low point in life? I know that there can be re-occurring depression, or seasonal depression and I'm not sure if it's that or not.

I'm choosing to answer this question today because (well...it's almost midnight, but whatever) today is national depression screening day! NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) posted this ( http://www.nami.org/template.cfmSection=Top_Story&template=%2FContentManagement%2FContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=171774&lstid=809 ) awesome article. Read it! Take one of its recommended online tests or find a place to be screened! There is absolutely NO SHAME in trying to take care of yourself, and there is no shame in having depression. Depression is a real thing, and there are ways to help it. Don't keep living under a rain cloud if you don't have to. 

Q: How do you determine if someone else is open to talking about their mental illness?

This is a tough question to answer. I am somewhat of an oddball because I am so open about having depression. Most people are afraid of how their family and friends will react if they open up about their mental illnesses. Honestly, I think the best way to find out if someone is willing to talk about their mental illness is by asking. Choose a good time and place, and show genuine care and concern for them. Let them know that you aren't going to judge them and that you are a friend that they can turn to if they feel comfortable talking about it. No one can get mad at you for that. You are simply offering your support. It is up to them whether or not they choose to confide in you. If they choose not to, don't be offended. Continue to support them and be their friend. Don't take it personally--most of the time it won't be anything against you, they just won't be ready to talk about it yet.

There's the first Q&A post folks! Be sure to fill out the survey and give me some more questions to answer! It'll take you two minutes, tops.