As an inspirational speaker, I love my job. I am fortunate enough to travel around the country and speak with a wide variety of corporations about leadership, overcoming adversity, the upside of change and the lessons I learned during my recovery after being injured in Iraq. As a byproduct of talking with many individuals after the presentations, I often hear about significant difficulties they are struggling with in their own lives.
I spoke recently at a charity golf tournament raising money to support a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping wounded warriors and their families. And while there I heard one particularly sad story that has stayed with me over the last few days. In fact, it was far more than sad; it was heavy, woeful and tear-jerking. I will repeat it here, but am sure I can't do justice to the story I heard.
A woman was talking about veteran suicide. Many have heard that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and while that number may actually be somewhat consistent with the rest of American society, something about it jumps off the page. Maybe we think our veterans simply don't fall into that category of suicidal people (whatever that category is), that our veterans are strong and resilient due to their service (although that same service exposes them to such challenging conditions), or that a wide variety of resources exist for our nation's veterans who do face suicidal ideations (many veterans actually don't know about the resources that exist or had a bad experience with one and have given up).
This woman told us that she had been invited to a premier university to talk about her service dog initiative, and at the end of her presentation an audience member stood and related his story.
He was the proud father of a young service member who had deployed to Iraq, and noticed that his son who came back was certainly different than the young man who had left. The soldier would not talk with his family about what he had seen and experienced overseas, although they could tell that it weighed heavily on him and encouraged him to talk with them. Over time the situation deteriorated to the point where the father called the suicide crisis hotline, and in his words "an angel was on the other end of the phone line." The counselor spoke with him and his son, and it seemed like things were okay.
The father was later sitting on the couch, reflecting on the phone conversation. He looked up and noticed that his son was watching him from the doorway, and suddenly his son started crying. His son asked his father to hold him the way he used to. The father explained to the audience that he did exactly that. He held his son for 43 minutes. And then he held him again the next day when he cut him down from the ceiling rafter in his son's room.
The father had no idea that evening was the last time he would hold his son, and that would be their last conversation. He thought they had made real progress with the phone call and that his son was on the path to recovery.
Of course I cannot come close to understanding the complete melancholy that father or the rest of his family felt after that. I do know that I cried in front of 200 people listening to that story, and have felt devastated hearing about this young returning veteran who felt like taking his own life was his best option.
There are many programs designed to defeat the staggering number of veteran suicides. And a lot of these programs are saving our service members, one person at a time, whether they focus on outdoor recreation, individual counseling, peer mentoring, equine therapy, service dogs or any number of other methods. I simply ask that you support the groups in your local communities pushing forward on these programs or initiatives. It can be as easy as playing in a charity golf tournament to making a monthly commitment. No question about it, though, it is a matter of life or death.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.