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LEADING THROUGH THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, & SUICIDAL IDEATION

The Bermuda Triangle. A place of lore and fables regarding the vanishing of boats, airplanes, and humans. Here’s a description of the triangle from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association:

“For decades, the Atlantic Ocean’s fabled Bermuda Triangle has captured the human imagination with unexplained disappearances of ships, planes, and people. Some speculate that unknown and mysterious forces account for the unexplained disappearances, such as extraterrestrials capturing humans for study; the influence of the lost continent of Atlantis; vortices that suck objects into other dimensions; and other whimsical ideas. Some explanations are more grounded in science, if not in evidence.”

We who lead are leading in a time where the Bermuda Triangle of mental and emotional health—depression, anxiety, and suicide/suicidal ideation—are on a rapid rise in the United States.

In July 2020 the CDC came out with this stunning report: 1 in 4 young adults in America ages 18-24, contemplated suicide due to the pandemic. That was a 300% increase over July 2019. In August 2020, The JAMA Network reported that the percentage of Americans reporting depression symptoms during the coronavirus pandemic spiked to 28%, up from 9% in 2019. Once again, that’s a 300% increase. And people who love Jesus are not immune from this.

Historically, the Church has not known what to do with depression, anxiety, or suicide. Our silence in the past was deafening. And while I’m grateful that increasingly, churches are talking about these three enemies more openly, I’m concerned our conversation isn’t always accurate.

I’m confident the people you lead are facing these mental and emotional challenges, perhaps more frequently than you imagine. In fact, you might be dealing with anxiety, depression, and/or suicidal ideation yourself. So . . . how do you lead through this vortex of mental/emotional struggle? What can you do?

Educate yourself

I’ve written a book entitled, Unshakable You: Five Choices of Emotionally Healthy People . There are dozens of other worthy books on the subject. One of the most helpful leadership actions you can take is to learn about anxiety, depression, and suicide, and what to do about them. While silence on the subject is bad, misinformation is worse.

Talk about it

It’s likely that at least 25% of the congregation you lead suffers with one or more these Bermuda Triangle maladies. So . . . open up the conversation. These evil triplets flourish under the cover of secrecy. They diminish when exposed to the light. Let’s normalize them. If you’re feeling a bit shaky in terms of addressing the subject, reach out to us for help.

Provide a preventive/curative framework

Certain preventive behaviors go a long way in keeping these three enemies at bay:

  • Working on our relationship with Jesus – this is foundational to mental/emotional well-being. Carve out time to talk with Him, read/study His word, and to worship Him.
  • Becoming our own best friend instead of our own worst critic – no one talks to you about you more than you do. So be kind with your words. Give yourself appropriate amounts of grace. Understand that in God’s eyes, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The apple of His eye.
  • Paying attention to our pace – God expects us to work diligently, but also to know when its time to stop. Work hard and then rest. Establishing healthy work/rest rhythms—daily, weekly, quarterly, and annually—serve as a protective shield against anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
  • Nurturing friendships – healthy, life-giving friendships serve as an antidote to the evil triplets. Our world increasingly possesses a magnetic pull to isolation. People seem lonelier than ever. And the truth is, there’s no pill for loneliness. We need friends who make us laugh. We need other friends who we can pour out our heart to. And other friends who challenge us to grow.
  • Getting our body in motion – regular exercise releases feel-good chemicals in our brain that reduce stress and lift our mood.

And in those seasons where anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation emerge, even in middle of these solid preventive behaviors—seek professional help. Your doctor needs to know what you’re going through. A qualified therapist can help you scrub out mental and emotional wounds that are plaguing you.

As the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide rise dramatically in our nation, let’s lead people proactively, intelligently, and compassionately, so they won’t be lost in the Bermuda Triangle. We here at Converge Coaching stand ready to assist you.

Rooting and praying for you, and for those you lead,

John

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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