If you’re reading this, I want you to know you are not alone

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Levi Welton
  • 436th Airlift Wing Chapel

On Jan. 28, 2022, at 4:54 p.m., Gen. Mike Minihan, Commander of Air Mobility Command, did something I haven’t seen any other military leader do. He tweeted a screenshot of his upcoming mental health appointment, along with the words, “Warrior heart. No stigma.”

In doing so, he dropped a proverbial bomb on a metastatic stigma that I - as a chaplain - fight everyday. That struggling with mental health makes you a “less than,” that depression is somehow a choice and the John Wayne “suck it up” stoicism is the way of the Western warrior. 

But it’s just not true. Every all-star athlete or Olympic champion needs a coach. And whether that coach is a mental health professional, a Military One Source point of contact, or a chaplain, I like to think we are all using our different lanes towards one common message - Wrestling with the devil inside us makes us stronger, not weaker. You should never feel ashamed to vent to us because we want to hear you, to be your safe space. It’s why we chose our job and when you seek out help, you make the world a better place because you show others they too don’t have to do this alone.

And yet, people still bottle up their emotions. They still are afraid to tell others what they are really feeling for fear of being judged. And rightly so. In an era of lightning fast social media shares, it can be difficult to find someone you can trust baring your heart and soul to. But bare it, you must. For a warrior is one who feels the fear and does it anyway. 

This is why it is so important for us, the people creating that safe space for you, to show you compassion and to make sure you feel that through the words we say, the look in our eyes and the tone in our voice. For the world needs to heal and it can only do that when we let the genie out of the bottle. As Dr. Craig Malkin, psychology professor at Harvard Medical School wrote, “People who share in this way come to see themselves, and the world, in a better light—and it makes them stronger.” Or, as the rapper Jay-Z once said, “You can’t heal what you never reveal.”

I know, in my own life, when I’ve been betrayed, hurt, or assaulted by the darkness of life I just wanted to crawl back into my fortress of solitude and lick my wounds. But it is specifically at our lowest moments in life that we must reach out and build human connections. The simple act of talking with a trusted family member, friend, or counselor helps keep your mind out of the emotional gutter, helps you troubleshoot more effectively and even lowers the cortisol levels in your body. Researchers regard this type of resilience as an emotional muscle - one which can be strengthened so you won’t just survive a crisis, but thrive in the dawn of a better tomorrow.

In my people’s faith tradition, we believe all humanity must follow in the footsteps of Naama and Noah, who built a biblical ark to provide a safe space to which is most sacred, life itself. Indeed, former President George H.W. Bush asserted in Public Law No. 102-14, the “Seven Noahide Laws” transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai are ethical values for everyone, regardless of religious faith. These laws include the freedom to believe in one God, to value all human life, to protect animal life, to respect the property of another and to establish a fair judicial system. My point is that these seven laws are termed the “Noahide Code” in the Torah because it is our value systems, our coming together to build safe spaces and our dogged perseverance to stand up for life that empower us to weather the dark storms of our lives. Or, as my mother taught me, a warrior is defined not by the glorification of violence but by the moral nobility of their values. 

Therefore, if you’re struggling with a flood of depression or suicidality, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are, as General Minihan said, a warrior. 

If you feel that life is not worth living, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The call is free and confidential, and crisis workers are there 24/7 to assist you. To learn more about the Lifeline, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org where you can live chat as well.

At Dover Air Force Base, the chaplain's office can be reached by calling 302-677-3000 and asking to speak to the “duty chaplain.”  The Mental Health Clinic provides individual counseling or educational classes and can be reached at 302-677-2674. The military and family life consultants at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center can provide confidential service and can be contacted at 302-677-6930. Militaryonesource.com provides access to self-help resources and can assist in locating other therapy services.