It would have been easy enough to tape myself doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days, and to nominate someone each day to do
The challenge is to create awareness that 22 veterans attempt to commit suicide every day due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I was nominated by an old friend via Facebook and began the challenge with gusto. I was in San Francisco for the marathon and started taping myself doing push-ups with killer backdrops.
I taped four challenges in one day to have them in the queue for later posting (Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Warf sign, Bay Bridge, etc.) and worked on the list of friends I’d include.
In Napa I taped a challenge with statue of the Buddha that stood in the villa where we stayed, opening with a line on the Buddha’s mantra that all life includes suffering.
It was about this time I received a message from a childhood friend in Cullman, telling me about the struggles of his family to cope with suicide attempts related to PTSD. It was a very sobering message.
Like the way so many engage in clicktivism on social media (ice bucket challenge, etc.), I realized my engagement—if I’m really honest with myself—was more about me posting videos in cool places, albeit for a great cause. My friend was thanking me, not calling me out. I called myself out, ending the challenge as it felt trite to me and that I could and should do more (like writing this).
I truly hope the challenge has helped raise awareness for this issue.
Twenty-two suicides every day is horrifying statistic that belies the pain the men and women who have served must be experiencing.
According to census data and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and some back of napkin calculations, consider the following:
- 100,000 Alabamans suffer from PTSD.
- That’s 2 percent of the total population of 4.8 million people.
- Alabama has 400,000 veterans from all wars combined. 96,000 of those veterans served in what the VA calls “peacetime,” which included the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.
- The VA estimates that 25 percent of vets suffer some form of PTSD.
- Alabama ranks pretty high in number of veterans per capita making up about 8 percent of its population. (Alaska has the highest percentage of veterans per capita with more than 10 percent.)
The bottom line is that far too many men and women who have sacrificed so much to serve their country are struggling to cope and government, communities, and families are grappling as well.
Traditional treatments of drugs and therapy produced mixed results. The New York Times recently reported the success of new therapies including scuba diving with sharks, fishing, backpacking, combat yoga, and animal therapy.
The article quotes Mike Hilliard a dive master who served in Iraq and leads swimming therapy in Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium.
“Treatment had always been someone telling me I was dysfunctional and giving me a bunch of pills. I became more withdrawn to the point where I was considering ending it all. As soon as I was underwater, everything went quiet. Seeing the fish, hearing the ocean—there is a complete innocence about it. There are no bad memories in the water. Everything just wants to live. It made me want to live again.”
The Times story goes on to say that PTSD wasn’t formally recognized until 1980, and doctors have struggled for sustainable treatment.
Veterans have long known that communing with nature helps. The first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail was a WWII veteran that said he needed to “walk the Army of my system, both mentally and physically.”
One of the drawbacks of the 22 Day Challenge was that it lacked a call to action to help veterans other than to bring awareness to the issue. What can I do, really? Learn more about it. Maybe most of all, talk to veterans. Ask them about their tour(s). Thank them repeatedly for their service. Buy them lunch. Thank them again.
And question any politician who makes flippant comments about committing ground troops to a location and situation where the definition of victory is vague and the rules of combat are murky. Ask that politician if they’re willing to serve or send their children.
Trevor C. Hale, a Cullman native and UAB alum, is proud that his father and granddad served in Korea and WWII.
Tags: October 2016