Tuesday, September 28, 2010 is one of those nights in my career that I will never forget. I was sitting in a local restaurant eating with several of my patrol teammates when dispatch advised us to respond to a suicide threats call. What we mistakenly assumed would be another routine call – partly because I knew the person – quickly took a turn for the worse.
The house was eerie and dark. As we got to the rear, we could hear rock-n-roll music playing. During a pause in the music, I began pounding on the door. When the male resident came to the back door, he was startled to see several officers standing there. He refused to open the door, but finally agreed to speak with me through a slightly opened window.
His eyes were bloodshot and teary, and his voice was panicked. I tried to explain that he was not in trouble and that we wanted to help, but I quickly began to feel that we had merely interrupted his plans. He explained that he found out he was HIV positive, had broken up with his girlfriend, and that he was in the throes of financial upheaval. In fact, the call was initiated by a credit card company who called to collect from him, and then called the police after his threats.
Before anything else could be done, he looked me in the eyes, said “Parker I’m just going to do it,” walked across the room, picked up a revolver, and committed suicide in front of us. For some time afterwards, I questioned what more we could have done. I’ve since realized that a delay in our response would have meant finding him dead, and that there was nothing we – I – did wrong or that might have been done differently.
If you’ve worked in law enforcement long enough, you’ve dealt with the issue of suicide. The sad, and mostly unspoken, truth is that many of our brothers and sisters in blue commit suicide each year – although you won’t find their names listed on a memorial wall or in the line-of-duty-death records. Statistics suggest there were 126 suicides by law enforcement officers in 2012 (Badge of Life).
I was reminded of this heart-breaking truth in the past two weeks after two well known pastors spoke on the issue. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California recently returned to the pulpit after his son committed suicide. As he spoke publicly about the issues of mental illness and suicide, the world was watching. His message has been featured in headlines across the world, including these articles on the Time Magazine Blog, Christianity Today, and USA Today.
I was quickened in my spirit last night to write this post after listening to Dr. Charles Stanley preach on the issue of suicide (Watch the sermon “Suicide – The Impact on Believers” by Dr. Charles Stanley 08-04-13). Click on the banner below for a written outline and notes from the message, but don’t forget to continue reading.
Dr. Stanley shares many great principles from the Bible. What cannot be conveyed enough is that Jesus loves you! Whether you are contemplating suicide, are dealing with the grief after the suicide of a loved one or fellow officer, or are dealing with the psychological after-effects of responding to one or more suicide calls, there is help and hope for you.
I believe that thoughts of suicide come from two primary sources. The first source is spiritual warfare from the enemy of our souls, Satan. First Peter 5:8 says that Satan is like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. While believers cannot be possessed by demons, they most certainly can face spiritual attack and be oppressed by spirits of fear, torment, and depression.
The response to a spiritual attack is to first realize that we are not fighting “flesh and blood.” Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our primary fight is against “authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Second Corinthians 10:4 tells us, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” We are not helpless against the powers of Satan, but have been equipped through the Holy Spirit to overcome our adversary.
If you are facing a spiritual attack, partner with intercessors or “prayer warriors” who can join with you. Share you struggles, and allow them to come alongside you for support and encouragement. Seek the empowerment that Christ gives through the Holy Spirit, and remain committed to the Word of God.
The second primary source of suicidal thoughts (and sometimes there is a combination of the two at play in a person’s life) comes from mental illness. Pastor Rick Warren addresses this area in his message, and notes that we must remove the associated stigma. We don’t criticize or shun the person with heart disease or cancer, but encourage them and pray for healing. Why then would we shun or avoid someone struggling with an illness in the brain?
It is important to note that mental illness is not always a long term diagnosis reserved for special situations. Some studies suggest that over 50% or 1 out of every 2 Americans has dealt with depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. Police officers see things and deal with things that most citizens don’t even want to think about. Sometimes “stuff” just builds up, and a sense of hopelessness settles in.
While prayer and spiritual help are still appropriate, there is also a need for critical incident stress debriefing, professional counseling, the possibility of prescription medication, and other natural remedies for stress reduction and overall health. There are many organizations available, and the first is often the free and confidential assistance that comes through your agency’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Your department will never know that you took advantage of free counseling resources. Many local churches offer counseling or community resources.
I also recommend several resources specifically targeting first responders, aside from the local chaplain. Safe Call Now, Badge of Life, and Serve & Protect all reach out to law enforcement officers and offer crisis hotlines for immediate assistance.
Watch the video below on the work of Safe Call Now, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Stay alert and mindful of those around you. If you feel they may be depressed, suicidal, or facing crisis, reach out to them and refer them for help. I am praying for you, and welcome your comments.
- Rick Warren returns to pulpit for first time following son’s suicide (abclocal.go.com)
- Rick Warren returns to pulpit four months after son’s suicide (foxnews.com)
- Rick Warren returns to pulpit after son’s suicide (cbsnews.com)
- Rick Warren Preaches First Sermon Since His Son’s Suicide (swampland.time.com)
- Pastor Rick Warren Returns to the Pulpit After Son’s Suicide (ktla.com)