If you know me at all, you know I served in the United States Navy for eight years. In that time, I met and served proudly with many fine men and women. This week, I learned that one of those women tried to take her own life because she was losing her battle with PTSD.
If you met her, you wouldn’t think she was depressed. She has a husband and family who love her dearly. She’s active in her church and community. All of her pictures show a smiling, happy family. But that’s just a veneer, a façade. Beneath all that is pain most can’t imagine. Pain of guilt. Pain of loss. A voice that constantly tells us we don’t deserve to be here.
In case you’ve been under a rock, you know that veteran suicides are a frightening statistic. According to a VA study undertaken in 2016, an average of 20 veterans commit suicide every day.
I want to pause to let that sink in.
Twenty people. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, etc. Someone you know. Someone you love. They’re taking their own life.
A veteran isn’t stereotypical anymore. When we think of veteran, we think of old men hanging out at VFWs telling war stories. To an extent, that’s still accurate. However, thanks to the Gulf War and Operation: Iraqi Freedom, there are a lot of younger veterans who “blend in” with our everyday population. To make it even broader, many of our veterans now are women. Thus, anyone you meet could be a veteran.
Since World War I, we’ve hardly known a living generation without a war. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Operation: Desert Storm, and Operation: Iraqi Freedom (among other, smaller conflicts) have kept our military active every generation. Also, with advancements in triage and battlefield medicine, more veterans are coming home now than ever before. What that means is our modern veteran not only has to deal with physical injuries, but psychological injuries as well.
So, what is to be done? Push ups? Yeah, that brings awareness, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Post suicide hotline numbers? Sure, that gets the number out there, but most people in that dark place have gone beyond the point where they feel they can reach out. Here’s a news flash: If someone, anyone, has reached the point where they have chosen to take their own life, they will not reach out for help. Why? Because they’ve already reached out. They’ve reached out, called out, screamed out, but no one has been able to help them.
It’s not for lack of trying, either. The VA system is overwhelmed with veterans seeking help for PTSD. There simply aren’t enough resources available to the VA to provide veterans with the help they need. Also, there is a huge stigma still attached to mental health issues. Most don’t realize that injuries we can’t see, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc., can be even more debilitating than a physical injury. They’re also more dangerous, because they are hidden. I can hide my anxiety behind a smile and laughter; meanwhile, inside, I’m screaming. You don’t see it, because I don’t let you. I don’t want to burden you with my problems.
So, what are we to do? If I knew the answer to that, I feel I would be a lot better off, and so would my friends. If you suffer with anxiety and depression like I do, I’m always here. I don’t care if you served or not; if you’re thinking about hurting yourself, pause a moment. Look at some pictures. If you think no one loves you, remember that I do. Someone always loves you. Someone always cares. I promise that.
I can’t lose any more friends to suicide.