For most of us the month of March was like any other. We did our normal activities and the days passed as usual. But not for one young woman, a Navy veteran. She served our country for four of her 28 short years of life. She had been back home for about 3 years and was living in Payson with family. Then, one day in March, she made the ultimate decision…to take her own life.
I know something of her situation because she was part of my own extended family. I definitely know that she was much more than a piece of the staggering statistic—20 military veterans commit suicide every day. She was a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a friend. She had a family and many friends who loved her. Unfortunately, love alone was not enough to resolve the torment that existed in her mind.
After talking with her closest family members, I was aware of the life-changing events she experienced being a young woman in the Navy. This is not the place to disclose her experiences. But I can simply state that she was not the same person after her four years of service.
Most people today understand the term Post-Traumatic Stress. A friend of mine who works with veterans describes PTS as a normal response to an “abnormal situation.” And yes, this young woman experienced abnormal situations that were not her choosing, and from which she could not escape.
What is not understood by the general population is that military service can result in PTSD even in the absence of exposure to war. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of veterans who suﬀer from PTSD. And many of them are looking for ways to escape the memories of traumatic experiences. Veterans, in general, are reluctant to share their experiences with non-military individuals. Some feel embarrassed to admit how they really feel and fear being judged and misunderstood by family and friends.
As a people we have an accurate view of the “strong and brave” men and women who heroically and selﬂessly serve our country. What we don’t see clearly is that even the “strong and brave” can suﬀer the eﬀects of exposure to “abnormal situations.”
For my cousin, even those who were closest to her did not understand the depth of suﬀering that existed in her mind. She was seeing a counselor at the VA, but that was not enough to ward oﬀ the thoughts of needing to escape her memories. Now, we will never know what else might have helped.
From being a mental health therapist for over 30 years, I have talked to many individuals who have contemplated suicide. A decision to take away one’s own life is not a decision that is made quickly. Suicide is often contemplated and then seen as a solution to ﬁnally end years of mental anguish. It appears to be the only logical answer.
Since my cousin’s death, I have been haunted with the idea that there are more like her, and some will, like her, decide that suicide is the only answer. There must be more we can do to help them.
Here are a few suggestions. When you meet a veteran, or if you already know someone who is active military or a veteran:
- Ask them to share their experiences. Be calm and do not overreact to what they tell you.
- Educate yourself about PTSD and learn to recognize the symptoms.
- Help veterans locate local services.
- Go with a veteran to see a counselor or other mental health resources.
- Do not assume that seeing a counselor will solve the problem quickly.
- Watch for signs of depression, such as not sleeping or not enjoying life as much.
- Understand that the build up of unresolved stress can manifest itself as anxiety about little things.
- Be concerned about the misuse of drugs and alcohol and talk honestly with them about it. Tell them you would like to help.
- Be patient with them. Often veterans experience denial about how their experiences have aﬀected them.
- Do what you can to relieve burdens and ﬁnd ways to help them resolve their daily stressors.
The intention of this article is not to assign blame or disparage the United States Navy or the Veterans Administration. It is mainly intended to draw attention to the ongoing problem of suicide among those who have served our country. Hopefully, if you know someone experiencing PTSD, you will continue to search for answers that might stop another veteran from believing that suicide is the only solution.
Pat Huish, PhD is a retired psychologist and is currently certiﬁed as a BootStrap Stress specialist. If you would like to know more about free classes for veterans go to BootStrapUSA.com or email Dr. Huish at PatHuishPhD@gmail.com.