A Journey from the Brink of Suicide

The RAND Report: The War Within is available online.

Imagine having a truck veer in your traffic lane – you don’t swerve away – instead you’re disappointed it didn’t hit you. A true experience of a courageous major who wrote a powerful commentary for the  Air Force news. A portion of the commentary and link to read the entire piece is below.

The topic is timely because the RAND National Defense Research Institute this week released a new report on military suicides: The War Within: Preventing Suicides in the Military.

The Rand report contains information on the epidemiology of suicide; reviews of scientific evidence and suicide prevention activities; a summary of funding and responsibilities; prevention programs assessments; and specific recommendations for suicide prevention.

The following partial commentary is from the Air Force Space Command news:

By Maj. Karry Gladden
Air Force Network Integration Center

2/16/2011 – SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — I recently celebrated two important anniversaries. On Jan. 30, 2010, I decided when and how I was going to end my life. The night before, I went to bed and slept for two hours – as I had for the previous nine or so months. Once I was sure my wife was asleep, I got out my laptop and researched how long it would take to bleed out from a femoral artery injury. This bit of information helped me narrow down the when and how… it also took away the last stumbling block. It had to look like an accident, primarily to ensure my sweetheart didn’t spend the rest of her life wondering why I committed suicide or blamed herself.

It is important to know that I got to the brink of suicide the same way most people do – a series of stressors in my life built up until they simply got the better of me. To make matters worse I had chronic back pain, which had been increasing since an injury a year ago, resulted in less and less exercise – an important way to relieve stress. And although I made sure members of my family received counseling for the major life events we were all facing, I just “manned up.” Through it all, I continued my duties as a flight commander at Ramstein Air Base, Germany and later, as an executive officer at Scott AFB.

Here are signs I ignored:
– On the way home from work one day a truck veered into my lane. I made no effort to move and was disappointed when it didn’t hit me.
– I was sleeping less and less, lying awake with racing thoughts, only falling asleep when exhausted.
– I wasn’t eating (ironically though, I gained a lot of weight).
– I went through the motions of life; I went to work because I had a responsibility to my family (and the Uniform Code of Military Justice).

You can read Maj. Karry Gladden’s entire commentary here.

I met Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, at the Carter Center in January 2010. During his presentation on how to improve coverage of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, Sullivan told journalists if we did nothing else when  reporting on veterans be sure to always include suicide prevention information:

Information is available online at Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Additionally, the VCS follows cases where veterans have had difficulty getting help from the VA. Here’s a story on the Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit in California on veteran suicide.

And the Defense Centers for Excellence has information for families on suicide prevention.

Tips:  What if someone I know Needs Help.

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