“He had his whole life ahead of him…” Raising Awareness about Veteran Suicides & “Out of the Darkness” Walks

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“Out of the Darkness” Walks take place all over the country at different times to raise awareness and money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, (AFSP) and to decrease stigma and of course, suicide. Research estimates over 20 Veteran suicides per/day  (Kemp, J., Bossarte, R. 2012, page 18) and a higher rate for Vets when compared to the general population.  Kaplan, M. et al. 2008)

Kyle Stucker, a Seacoast Online news journalist  published a story about Cheryl Brigham and the work she is doing to raise awareness about this issue which she became involve with following the loss of a dear friend.  (She has created a memorial garden, participates in the “Out of Darkness Walk”, and agreed to answer some questions for Confident Voices in Healthcare Blog.)

Cheryl BrighamWhat is the ‘Out of Darkness Walk’ about?

‘Out of the Darkness Community Walk’ is a way to join with others in the community to raise funds and awareness for  AFSP vision to ‘create a world without suicide’.  It gives the community a way to honor loved ones who have died of suicide and raise money for the cause.

How did you get involved in it?‘

My family and I had lost a very dear friend when a 27 year old veteran took his life recently.  We felt like we had to do something.   It was a way of turning our pain into something positive while honoring someone that we love.’

What kind of mental healthcare support should we be providing (versus are providing)?

Over the course of the almost 2 years since his death I have thought about this issue of mental health support and treatment.  It is my feeling he was probably never properly diagnosed and therefore didn’t get the treatment he needed.  I believe he suffered from PTSD from his time in Iraq and I believe it went undiagnosed, although I don’t know because he did not talk of such things.

As a society suicide, depression, mental health are all subjects that make people uncomfortable and so we do not speak about them. We can talk about cancer or other diseases but we don’t talk about mental health issues. If we discuss mental health at all it seems like it is related to some terrible news story where a person with mental health issues did some unspeakable crime. I think we need to remove the stigma of mental health and we need to start talking about it.  We need to start talking about it in general but especially in regard to our soldiers that we send off to war to serve their country where they must see horrendous things.  We can’t continue to ignore this disease and hope that it will go away, because it won’t.  We owe it to our soldiers to make sure we take care of them with the very best care that we as a great country have to offer and not let them suffer in silence.

What can readers do and where can they learn more?

People can go to the web site for the walk and learn more about the walk.  There are different walks going on on various dates all over the country and you can find one near you here.  They can join a walk or donate to a walk.

But even more than that I think people need to start talking about mental health issues and suicide.  I think people need to understand that suicide is a desperate act to relieve the persons’ pain.  I think we need to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and suicide and try to understand the illness and act.  Although I get the whole thing that people ALWAYS saying that suicide is a selfish act, I can only imagine when you are in that kind of pain all you can think of is relieving the pain.  [embedplusvideo height=”300″ width=”450″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1mcJfKJ” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/v5W0OO71jWg?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=v5W0OO71jWg&width=450&height=300&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep1318″ /]

I was told by a healthcare professional that I had a right to be angry about my friend’s act.  Being angry does not bring him back nor did I ever feel like it would make me feel better.   So I never was angry at him, I was just sad for him, that he had all that pain and kept it to himself. 

I think we need to start listening to those around us especially for the things that they don’t say.  If we start the dialogue and save even just one soldier’s life than my friend’s death will not have been in vain.  This brief video by a mom who lost her son to suicide shares why it is so important  to remove the stigma.


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