Approximately 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
There are mystical moments when bonds form instantaneously upon meeting. After exchanging a couple of sentences, you feel the rapport. Maybe it’s because she thinks your nonsensical jokes are actually funny, or because you share the same netflix queues; whatever the reason, it becomes one of the easiest connections you’ve made and it grows quickly.
With him, a fit blue-eyed young veteran, it was the words he used, how he used them, and his eagerness to find the punchline in everything. We spoke the same language. There was a mutual understanding that fueled a sense of home and closeness. That security eventually led to an invitation to the space inside of us that we tend to keep closed off to the outside world.
The majority of our time together was spent with complete abandonment and negligence to the harsh side of life. We mostly played, laughed, lived, without many worries. We philosophized and entertained ourselves with academic debates, but with a lightness that complimented our laissez-faire and jokester attitudes.
There was so much laughter that it took me a while to recognize the sadness. It took me even longer to accept it. I couldn’t comprehend it.
I wanted to understand why when life seemed so right in my eyes, when there were so many highs, he would have days where he shut out the world and didn’t leave his bed. The more he tried to share with me, the more I wanted to fix everything. Surely if I could just make him see how great his life was at this moment, if I could distract him, if I could fill every minute with ‘fun,’ then I’d make it better. Powered by the naivety that being young and in love gives us, I convinced myself that I could end his depression and anxiety.
They say that when veterans return from war they have a difficult time sharing their stories with those of us who have not had a similar experience. This may be true for many, but sharing was not the challenge here, it was a resistance to get help for the problem. I have been a vessel for many military stories, some funny and others so haunting that they’ve kept me up at night.
With every struggle I witnessed him having, my compulsive desire to ‘fix’ things was further ignited. At the time I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. All I knew was that his sadness was hurting me as much as it was slowly destroying him and I couldn’t sit idly by. Years later I realized that it wasn’t the sadness that was hurting me, but rather my belief that not being able to end the sadness was a reflection of my worth, of not being enough. Every goal I’d set for myself, I’d achieved. I get paid to create and fix things. For a couple of years, my self-worth was tied to fixing and achieving, and here I was miserably failing at solving this problem.
The harder I tried, the more helpless I felt. I could sense the deep shame that the depression had fostered in him. He was supposed to suck it up, handle things on his own, get over it, and seeking outside help threatened this perceived idea of his manhood. What followed was a steep decline and a heartbreaking journey.
In 2014, the VA reported that approximately 22 veterans a day commit suicide. 22. A day. Let that register. This means that 8,030 veterans kill themselves every year.
I, along with many others, have been personally impacted by the void and guilt that is left when a veteran (or anyone close to us for that matter) commits suicide. Less than a month ago, a veteran that I’ve known for 5 years took his life, unexpectedly. Unfortunately, this isn’t my first personal experience with this reality. It wasn’t a quiet suicide. It was shocking, disturbing, and it left our community questioning if there was anything that we could have done.
Approximately 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Of course there is something more that we, as a society, can do.
Not everyone who comes back from the military has an exceedingly difficult time reintegrating into civilian life. Not everyone who comes back from the military suffers from depression. Not everyone who comes back from the military is silently suffering. But some veterans are suffering and we, as a society, do not make it easy for them, or anyone with mental health difficulties, to seek help.
Although an estimated one in ten U.S. adults report having depression there is still a stigma and lack of understanding when it comes to the illness. Even today negative judgements are made when someone shares that he or she is depressed. This judgement ties in to the lack of communal support that would make it safer for someone who is suffering to reach out.
As a society we have grown to worship individualism to such an extreme that our sense of every day community is quickly diminishing. It shouldn’t take a traumatic event, such as 9/11, to bring us together. Rather, it should be sufficient reason that we are all humans dealing with our own unique battles and life is easier when others show us kindness.
Yes, it is an individual’s responsibility to seek help for his/her well being, but it is our responsibility as a society to make it easier for individuals to reach out. It is not lost on me that ultimately there was nothing that I could have done to fix my loved one’s problems because he was not yet ready to help himself. But, I also believe that a more inviting society would have facilitated him in getting there faster.
Today on veterans’ day we genuinely thank all the men and women who served, who sacrificed, who endured, who persevered. Let us also take the time to not just reflect on what it means to create a supportive community, but to epitomize a kind and supportive approach with those who cross our paths.