Commitment to Suicide Prevention, Mental Health
Carol Graham: As a mother losing two children, I feel it’s almost like a bipolar experience. When we lost Kevin, we felt like the biggest failures as parents, and when we lost Jeffrey, we were elevated to gold-star status. We’ve experienced the stigma, the shame, the guilt, along with the honor and respect that goes with a hero that dies trying to save his platoon.
We’re searching for a balance in there and also seeking to comfort the other military families going through the same things.
I have a master’s degree in counseling, but I did not know that suicide is the number two cause of death in college-age kids. What’s staggering to me is that’s the age of many of our soldiers. We were of course very broken when Kevin died, and we began setting up the programs for suicide prevention on college campuses. Connecting with survivors helped me not to feel so alone.
People would tell me their family members took their own lives. But out in the world they tell people their loved ones had heart attacks or were in car wrecks. It’s easier not to have to deal with the embarrassment and the shame and the judgment.
There are things we can do. We can ask the question—Mark and I didn’t know that, we didn’t know to ask. Maybe we’re scared to ask if we think someone is at risk for taking their own life. If you do suspect, care for them and stay with them.
Honestly, I think people’s legs break and their backs break and so psychologically they can break. I had a soldier tell me one time that he wished he’d just been burned all over or lost a limb because that would have been so much easier to explain than to try to explain the anxiety, fear, and suicidal thoughts that were going through his mind.
I just want to leave you with a couple of words our son said that we didn’t get. We didn’t hear him. We think these were red flags. Maybe some of you won’t miss them the next time you might hear them.
When Kevin started taking the medication, he said, “Do you know that depression is an illness and not just a sad feeling?” And I think we all know that it’s definitely a real illness and I guess we thought it was like taking an antibiotic—that he’d get better.
Another thing he said was, “I guess guys are just supposed to suck it up.” In our culture, we do give that signal. He also said, “So I’m supposed to take a pill the rest of my life to be happy?” I didn’t really have an answer, but now I know the answer is, “Yeah, maybe.” We wouldn’t tell someone on insulin to just stop taking the medication.
A resource locator is available to link veterans to medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics.