Ashley Sargeant is a woman on a mission.
It’s not the mission she intended. That one ended when, after serving nine months in Brazil, a combination of bipolar disorder and exhaustion made it clear she was too sick to finish the remainder of her planned 18 months in the full-time mission field.
Back home, Sister Sargeant struggled to process what had happened.
“I had so much anxiety about absolutely everything,” Sister Sargeant admitted. “Lots and lots of ‘what ifs’ and not a lot of answers.”
As Ashley tried to work through her pain, the words of her first MTC companion—words that would soon inspire a new mission to support fellow early returning missionaries (ERM)—carried her through those dark days of healing: “Whatever you do, just don’t stop, Sister Sargeant.”
And she didn’t.
Instead, Sister Sargeant created Don’t Stop, Sargeant! a social media campaign to share hope and support for early returning missionaries and those with mental illness. There are many reasons why a full-time missionary might return home early from the mission field. One often overlooked factor is mental illness. Having experienced the heartbreak of an early return and wanting to help other ERMs move on in a positive and productive way, Ashley spearheaded a YouTube music video. When that generated an outpouring of gratitude from ERMs who had suffered in silence, Sister Sargeant realized just how great the need for support was. The video turned into a Facebook page, Instagram account, and finally, a full 30-day survival guide for ERMs. The survival guide incorporates Ashley’s own videos, conference talks, videos from BibleVideos.org, scriptures and journaling, all centered on a daily theme.
“Nothing like this existed when I returned home early . . . I’m trying to create what I wish I would have had at that time of my life,” Sister Sargeant says.
The Don’t Stop, Sargeant! movement comes at a time of increased awareness and discussion of mental illness from the pulpit.
Ashley cites Elder Holland’s influence in particular, whom she says “brought awareness to the fact that mental illness is not just something you ‘positively think’ yourself out of,” she says. “It really is, as he described, ‘a dark night of the mind.’”
Sister Sargeant’s advice for those trying to help an ERM is simple: “Treat that early returning missionary how Christ would.” She cautions against prying, even with good intentions. Instead, welcome the missionary with open arms and thank them for their service, Ashley advises. “ Do you think that God disqualifies someone’s voluntary contribution to building His Kingdom because they got sick or made a mistake and didn’t finish a certain amount of time on their mission?” she asks. “Nope.”
Ultimately, Sister Sargeant would like to see an expansion of both print and digital resources for ERMs, as well as education and awareness about mental illness in general. “My hope for the rising generation of early returning missionaries is that their transition home will be a smoother, less shameful experience.”
Above all, Ashley has found strength in her trial and joy in knowing her work will help bless the lives of others struggling through similar issues.
“God still had a mission for me,” says Sister Sargeant, “and this is just the beginning.”