FORT BRAGG, N.C., Sept. 19, 2011 — Army Suicide Prevention Month provides a lot of information and training aimed at educating soldiers not to take their lives, said a troubled soldier who’s now getting help.
Yet, he said, the September-observed annual campaign often doesn’t provide real stories of soldiers who’ve struggled mightily and reached out for counseling.
“Until you suffer loss, whether it’s an emotional toll from combat, divorce or depression, you don’t realize the toll it’s taking on you,” said Army Capt. Douglas Ray, the public affairs officer for the 16th Military Police Brigade here.
“Divorce, for me, was an eye-opener,” he said. “The maturity that I needed was stuff that I’m still working on today. It was something that I think I only could have gotten and started developing through counseling.”
Ray said so much is asked of soldiers like maintaining success of the unit, completing the mission and training that it leaves very little time for self-assessment, and the stress and the pressure can be overwhelming. It is sometimes forgotten, he added, that not all wounds are visible.
For Ray, understanding suicide and depression was something he learned early. When he was 15, his father committed suicide.
“My dad suffered from bouts of depression,” he said. “I still do, but the key to success for me is recognizing when it’s happening so I can combat it. Genetically, I have some of the same issues my dad had.”
Like many, Ray said he didn’t always feel the need to speak to a counselor, but his mother recognized the signs in her son’s life and took him to see a counselor.
It wasn’t until years later, after his divorce, that he recognized the value of talking to a counselor.
“The emotional toll of divorce and, — good, bad or indifferent — it was my wake-up call. I knew I needed help,” Ray said.
Ray said his ex-wife told him to get help.
“She was telling me I needed to get help, but you aren’t going to listen to somebody you aren’t talking to anyway,” he said.
The Army’s suicide prevention program, Ray explained, tells leaders and rank-and-file soldiers to be aware, observant and to listen when fellow soldiers experience emotional problems. Military leaders and troops are to encourage troubled service members to seek help. And troops seeking counseling and other assistance for mental health issues should face no stigma for doing so.
“The value of talking to a dispassionate third party, somebody who didn’t know me who could tell me what I was saying or define for me things I couldn’t define for myself was great,” Ray said.
One person telling his story opens the door for dialogue, Ray said, but it is just a beginning. In the military, he said, there are many who have dealt with everyday struggles and suffer in silence.
“My hope is that if somebody can see that there is somebody out there who realizes they need help and get help and now is doing much better, they, too, will keep on trying,” he said.
Important messages conveyed by suicide prevention programs should be personalized, Ray said.
“Soldiers need to know that there are other soldiers and resources out there, [and] that [other soldiers] have gone through the same thing and have overcome the obstacles, with help,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)