Face of Defense: Soldier Cites Struggles, Recovery

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)