Beating Depression & Suicide - The Warrior's Journey®

Beating Depression & Suicide

Author: Evan Owens, Executive Director of REBOOT Combat Recovery

Blinding Light. Photo by US Marine Corps is licensed under CC By 2.0

Little Tommy was playing in a little league baseball game, and it wasn’t going well.

His team was down 14–0. Parents were trying to cheer up their kids from the stands, and Tommy’s mother yelled out to him, “Tommy don’t get discouraged!” Tommy replied, “Why would I get discouraged? We haven’t even been up to bat yet!”

A silly story, maybe, but sometimes, don’t you wish you could go back to that innocent place where you saw the world through rose-colored glasses – before you lost your trust in people and found yourself so easily angered?

For some of us, that “glass half-full” mentality was stolen from us at a very young age. Others lost it gradually over time as our eyes were opened to the cruelty of humanity. Now we are left with the reality that the world is a damaged place, where people suffer, pay taxes, and eventually die. Living with this reality, how can we not feel depressed? What do you do when you feel depressed? How do you cope? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Is there a future beyond the black cloud of depression?

If you are still living, it is because God wants you alive.

If you have ever dealt with depression, you may know these feelings: no one seems to understand that you aren’t choosing to be depressed; rather, out of nowhere, the darkness comes at you and shades your world like a cheap pair of sunglasses. You may have bright moments, but they are few and far between. Antidepressant medications make you feel like a zombie, and although you may take them from time to time, you would much rather not rely on them. You probably aren’t able to trace the exact moment when the depression began. It just soaked into you over a period of time.

So here’s the question – what can be done to heal you from this cloud of despair?

If you’ve tried the solutions above and nothing has worked, there’s good news. God talks a lot about pain and depression. As a matter of a fact, some of the most well-known figures in Jewish history were plagued by depression:

  • Abraham battled a bout of depression (Genesis 15).
  • Elijah was so depressed he could hardly move (1 Kings 19).
  • David battled the ups and downs of PTSD (Psalm 42).
  • Jonah contemplated suicide (Jonah 4:3).

An ongoing battle with depression can take its toll. Feeling helpless, hopeless, and unable to see a way out, some of us have also battled the spirit of suicide. As one soldier said, “I just grew tired of the mental, physical, and spiritual pain.”

Depression and Suicide

The subject of suicide is a highly volatile topic and one that we approach gently. No doubt, someone close to you has either attempted or completed suicide. When a loved one attempts or completes suicide, it leaves a ripple effect that is felt forever. Suicide is the final word. It can’t be undone.

Often, suicide comes after a prolonged battle with depression. And depression comes after a persistent feeling of sadness or loss. If you have dealt with these feelings in the past or are dealing with them now, our goal is to help you walk back from the ledge of suicide and teach you some basic tools to help others avoid that ledge altogether.

In the book of Job, we read of a man named Job whose faith is tested on almost every level imaginable. He loses his family, friends, and fortune. He pleads with God but doesn’t hear anything back. Chapter after chapter in his story, we see a man slowly being torn apart by his circumstances.

FORT IRWIN, Calif. -U.S. Army Spc. Kevin Nguyen from Charlie Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, go door-to-door clearing buildings looking for a high value target at the National Training Center here, June 20, 2014. Decisive action rotations are geared toward an adaptive enemy in a complex environment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Charles Probst, Operations Group, National Training Center)

Do you ever feel like that in your life? That you can’t stand up against the waves hitting you one after another? This is how Job felt as Satan unleashed his triple threat of doubt, despair, and depression.

When we face hard times, God feels so far away. The world is quick to point out that our God is silent. Skeptics love it when God doesn’t react right away because it gives them a chance to say, “I told you so!” Even well-meaning religious people will offer unhelpful and, frankly, unbiblical words of caution. “The reason you’re depressed is because you don’t pray enough or read the Bible enough,” or, “you must be caught in a sin to be struggling like this.”

God loved Job, and Job was doing his best to follow God – but even so, Job was tested. Throughout his story, we recognize the presence of the enemy in the form of lies presented to him by friends and family.

Early in Job’s struggle, we see the first lie that takes depression and pushes it towards suicide. Surprisingly, it comes from the one person closest to Job – his wife.

“His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.”’ (Job 2:9, NLT).

LIE #1: God has Abandoned you.

Job’s wife enters the story as soon as things get bad. She is quick to abandon her trust in God’s goodness. She can’t see God anywhere, and she advises Job to curse God and die. As the story progresses, despite Job’s faith and trust in the Lord, he loses everything, including his health. Job’s wife points out God’s silence as the reason why her husband is suffering. Job hears from her the lie that a loving God wouldn’t let him suffer – so he should just forget God and give up! That same lie still plagues many of us today when we face what seem to be overwhelming circumstances.

Perhaps downrange, or even now, you have felt like this – like God has abandoned you. If he is good, he must not be good in your corner of the world. As you have seen wickedness winning in the wars at home and abroad, you may be thinking that God is on a coffee break. Job would have identified with you. He could relate.

LIE #2: Your Family Would be Better off Without You.

During his lowest points, Job heard over and over again that it was his fault his family was having to suffer. His friends accused him that his “sin” had brought these terrible misfortunes upon him and his family. This false guilt was a huge burden for Job. He didn’t want to continue burdening his family, so the logical temptation was suicide. Could he really set his family free by taking his own life? Would death be a pathway to freedom?

Have you ever been in a place where death seemed like an upgrade? Every day, 22 veterans act on the belief that this is true. They believe the lie that the world will be brighter without them.

So what now?

When you are overwhelmed by your circumstances, it’s easy to let depression sink in. But Job’s story is full of lessons for our own lives. Let’s examine three tangible steps we can take to push back the darkness.

LIFE LESSON #1: Focus on God’s Character.

Following in Job’s footsteps of faithfulness, we must remind ourselves of the evidence of God’s goodness and provision in our lives and in the lives of others. Job continued to trust the Lord, and even when he was at his most angry state, he knew that God was there. While he didn’t know the mind of God, he trusted the character of God. Job knew God’s history and had seen him work in the stories of old.

We know that God never changes. His perfect love is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This means that he is with you and won’t ever leave your side. If you are still living, it is because God wants you alive. He has an eye on you and loves you.

LIFE LESSON #2: Trust in God’s Timing.

Job got a lot of advice from his friends. Most of it was not helpful. When we face depression, most of the advice we get centers around “quick fixes” for the problem. “Take this pill.” “Sleep more.” “Work out more often.” “Listen to Christian music.” But most of the time, there is no quick fix for the kind of deep suffering in which we find ourselves.
It’s like sitting in a traffic jam. We’ve all been there.
Sometimes there’s no escape, no off-ramp, no alternate route – you’re just stuck. Still, have you ever done the thing where you slowly nose your car out to the shoulder of the road in an effort to peek around the line of traffic to see what’s ahead?A U.S. Army drill sergeant corrects a recruit during her first day of training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Jan. 31, 2017. Referred to as “Day Zero” this marks the beginning of the recruit's journey through Basic Combat Training, where she will transition from a civilian to a Soldier.

We are impatient. Whether it’s a traffic jam or real life, we want to see the cause of any delays. But what’s ironic is that even when we know the root cause of a delay, it doesn’t change the fact that we are still at the mercy of factors beyond our control.

When we are caught in the gridlock of depression and despair, we need to take a deep breath, put our eyes on the road before us, and accept that the progress we make may not be as fast as we’d like, but it is progress nonetheless.

LIFE LESSON #3: Shift your Perspective.

If you possess a strong belief in God and also endure a chronic pain, you’ve probably struggled with your faith, asking God, “Why haven’t you made me well?” Without a doubt, you have prayed for healing, as have your friends and family. The fact that your physical pain remains month after month – or even year after year – may have led you to question the core foundations of your faith. Few things are more discouraging than when we pray for answers and hear nothing.

Job questioned God. And he got an interesting answer: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much” (Job 38:4 NLT). It was not so much an answer to the “why” of his suffering as it was a redirection to the incredible power and authority of God.

God taught Job a very important lesson. It’s as if he was saying, “Stop telling me how big your problem is and start telling your problem how big your God is.” When recovering from depression, we gain more from realigning our perspective than rehashing our problems.

When you focus solely on a problem, it has a way of seeming bigger than it is. Just as a small object held close to your eye obscures everything else in your field of vision, so does a problem when you direct all of your attention on it.

Job learned to remain focused on the provider instead of the problem.

Get in the game!

Satan uses discouragement as a tool to keep you from progressing forward. That voice in your head telling you to stay in the house and let another day pass is not the voice of God.

God doesn’t want you to remain discouraged and depressed; rather, he wants to develop you through that process and set you free. Because we all have free will and God works with our choices, it isn’t a seamless process – and it certainly won’t be easy – but healing starts with making a choice.

When you feel like not starting, start.

When you feel like giving up, give more.

Sometimes when we are depressed, we have to act out of discipline and obedience rather than feeling. We don’t feel like working toward a solution, but we must do it anyway. We must trust facts over feelings. The reality is that you have so much to give to the world, and the world needs you. It’s missing something while you are on the bench.

Sometimes when we are depressed, we have to act out of discipline and obedience rather than feeling.

What holds you back from joy in your life? What are things you do that bring you joy? What are ways you can get in the game?

Be like Tommy at his baseball game and begin rebuilding the wall of optimism in your life. After all, you haven’t even been up to bat yet. There are still innings left to play, and you belong in the game!

Editor’s Note:

The Warrior’s Journey is privileged to partner with a number of organizations that meet the needs of warriors. ReBoot Combat Recovery is dedicated to bringing hope and healing to combat veterans and their families through group meetings and outstanding materials designed to help men and women like you survive and thrive while coping with the cost of battle.

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