THE BOTTOM LINE – If left unchecked, loss can lead to grief, grief can lead to depression, and depression can eventually lead to suicide. But God can help me out of the valley to a place of stability and strength, where I can then help others become free from depression and avoid suicide.
During last week’s session, we talked about loss and grief.
We all suffer loss in a variety of ways, both on duty and off, so we looked at the important role that grieving plays as well as productive ways to mourn our losses. But what if things don’t change? What if the sadness and misery won’t go away? What if a person sinks into full-scale depression or even contemplates suicide? Depression is more than just feeling blue about a traumatic event that occurred in your life. That may be part of it, but depression is a complex, long-term condition that is usually caused by a combination of several factors, including unrelenting stress, hormonal imbalances, adverse reactions to medication, chronic illness, social rejection, or even spiritual attacks.
These factors impact a person’s body, mind, and spirit in ways that affect eating, sleeping, working, energy levels, and feeling of self-worth. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness. You are not choosing to be depressed, and you are not alone. Even though it can seem like you are alone as you walk through the dark valley of depression, it should be encouraging to know that what you are experiencing is not at all uncommon.
Over 16 million adult Americans experience Major Depressive Disorder. Not only that, but even some of the famous heroes of the Bible suffered periods of great depression – besides Job, whom we learned about last session.
- Abraham became very depressed when God’s promises weren’t happening as soon as he wanted (Genesis 15:2,3).
- The great prophet Elijah was once so depressed that he could hardly move and asked God to end his life (1 Kings 19:4).
- King David constantly battled the ups and downs of PTSD (Psalm 31:9-13).
- Jonah contemplated suicide even after his incident with the great fish (Jonah 4:3).
Depression is a serious condition not to be glossed over or ignored, and taking action on this issue is especially vital for first responders. If you are depressed, you will be focused inward, preoccupied with your own suffering, rather than focusing on what’s important in the environment around you.
For instance, if a depressed law enforcement officer knows he is responding to a high-risk call, the adrenaline surge will tend to counteract the effect of his depression on his judgment, alertness, and reaction time. But on seemingly routine calls, the depression will significantly suppress his “sixth sense” and tactical awareness, making it more difficult for him to perceive an evolving threat. He’ll be far behind the reactionary curve and will detect danger cues too late. And as you may know, most officers die not on known highrisk calls, but in common patrol situations that appear benign at first.
As we’ve covered in previous weeks, soul wounds are a central cause of first responder stress and trauma. Changing your roots and shifting your focus to God for healing will help to resolve any issues you might have with depression. But you may need to dig even deeper. You may need to combine these spiritual efforts with a medical evaluation and counseling.
Remember, at Firstline, we don’t look at spiritual healing as a replacement for physical or mental treatment. Rather, our healing journey is intended to work hand in hand with more traditional methods of recovery from trauma, and that’s especially so when dealing with issues related to depression. Addressing the physical imbalances and talking through your situation with a trained therapist or counselor are often vital to complete healing.
SUICIDE – THE WRONG WAY OUT OF THE VALLEY
But here’s a dose of reality. As you undoubtedly know, many first responders experience great trauma, slip into depression, and can’t figure out how to get out of it. And sometimes, they resort to ending their pain through suicide. The specific reasons behind a person’s decision to end his or her life are varied. But researchers in this area have identified three factors that are present in almost every instance of suicide. Knowing these three factors might not only motivate you to take appropriate action if you are at risk, but will also help you to spot some important danger signs in your friends and coworkers.
1. Perceived Burdensomeness – “My family and friends would be better off if I were gone.” When a person feels that he or she is a burden to loved ones, it is a mindset which can move that person toward suicide. It is almost always a misperception, but is holds great power over someone who has suicidal ideations.
2. Lack of Belongingness – “I really don’t belong anywhere now.” Feeling accepted and connected to others is a fundamental need for a person’s sense of well-being. If a person lacks this, many experts argue that this sense of social isolation is the strongest and most uniform risk factor for suicide. This would help explain why the suicide rate jumps dramatically among first responder retirees after years of belonging to a department.
3. Acquired Capability for Lethal Self-Injury – While the first two factors may instill a desire for suicide, this third factor adds to that desire the capability of making an actual suicide attempt. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct that God has built into every person. But this instinct is not impossible to override. Those who have shed this innate desire for self-preservation have likely done so after a process of repeatedly experiencing painful or fear-inducing experiences either directly or indirectly. Rather than scaring them off, this familiarity with trauma emboldens them. This factor is especially relevant to first responders and combat veterans who have faced pain and death on a very significant and frequent basis.
Consider these three red flags for a moment: perceived burdensomeness, lack of belongingness, acquired capability for lethal self-injury. Do you see any of those three characteristics in yourself? How many? How strong are they? How long have you been aware of them?
The answer to these questions could be extremely important for you. If the Spirit of God is turning on some alarm bells in your mind right now, this could be an important wake-up call for you. It may be God urging you to share your concerns with someone you trust, like your Firstline leader, a pastor, a counselor, or a coworker that you know has your back. Or what about your friends and who work with you? Are you sensing that they might be struggling with these challenges? This may be a good time to talk with them about it. Let them know you’re concerned about them. Tell them what you’ve learned about these three issues and how you’re assessing yourself regarding them. Ask them frankly what they think about them.
ou have probably read or heard Psalm 23 before. In this Psalm, David is praising God for His strengthening presence throughout his life, during the good times and the bad. Remember this part?
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:4-6 NKJV)
David had walked through that valley of death. But what David came to understand is that even when things looked the darkest, when the walls of the valley were closing in around him and he sensed that his enemies were ready for an ambush, there was more to reality than what he could see with his own eyes. God was right there, walking with him through the valley. And He wasn’t merely keeping an eye on David from afar.
God was providing David with an abundance of overwatch and provision. David knew it, he experienced it, and he wrote it down so that today, 3,000 years later, we also could know and experience it.
As Winston Churchill once said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s our admonition to you today. Keep going. Walk through death valley, strengthened by the assurance that God is walking with you.
Your Firstline brothers and sisters are too.
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