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Social media and veteran suicide: 12 things I’ve learned about saving our Veterans

Article author Laura Black is the Chief marketing Officer for Stop Soldier Suicide and handles the organization’s social media. She is a 25+ year marketing veteran who works to help raise awareness of the growing epidemic that is veteran suicide. Her stepson is an active duty Army CPT at Ft. Bragg.

I LikeWhen I started helping this organization, I did it because of my stepson who is currently serving. But now, 2+ years in, I’m hyper-aware of the tragedy that is our country’s lack of care for our Veterans  and active duty Service members. I feel as a civilian it is my absolute duty to give back by helping them.

Every day I read posts and comments and messages from Veterans who tell a pretty similar story: We are being forgotten, and we feel helpless and worthless. We feel alone and used.

The stories and comments we get on our Facebook page have helped me learn so much about what we need to do to help our Veterans. Here are a handful of things I’ve gleaned:

1. That the stresses of being home are an undeniable issue and hardship. Transitioning isn’t so easy. There’s a deep loss of camaraderie and brother/sisterhood. A loss of purpose and direction that when, whilst serving, was there and was the reason to get up and keep going.

As a marketing professional, I understand there are core human needs:  connection, purpose, belonging are just a few. Yet how can we help our Veterans feel those things again once home? Add the hidden wounds of Post Traumatic Stress onto it and you can begin to see why suicide becomes an option. I do get it. Of course, I know that isn’t the answer, but until you suffer the emotional strain and understand depression and loss to the extent these men and women do, you just can’t wrap your head around it. There is no pill to “fix” them. This isn’t about gutting it out and smiling through the pain. 

2. The absolute devastation of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that so, so many of our Veterans suffer….many undiagnosed is simply WRONG. I’ve gotten to where I can ask if there is migraine, confusion, mood swings, a bi-polar diagnosis perhaps–and I know “yes” answers  mean there is probably TBI…an actual physical wound in the brain that needs treatment. I also have now learned that pills don’t heal the brain. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (a service not covered for Veterans) is a very effective therapy, among a few others like cognitive retraining and other brain-performance techniques. 

 TBI also causes impulsive behavior that can lead to suicide. I ask myself daily, “What if we could heal the TBIs….how many lives would we save?” I lobby for any therapy that can help here. Our organization is part of a nationwide network of providers who know how to help and want to, but need funding to do so. 

3. Veterans and Service members who are about to take their life, often post messages on their Facebook page that let you know they are “done.” They also tend to change their profile pictures to either photos with their family or loved ones or to dark and haunting images. Our organization works with a group trying to create an algorithm that detects these changes in an effort to stop a suicide before it happens. So if you see this kind of activity on a FB page, REACH OUT TO THE PERSON ASAP!

4. I’ve learned about the tragic stories from family members who ask me to post their Veteran’s picture who lost the fight with PTS or TBI to suicide. It breaks me in two. I post these images wondering if I am helping or causing more pain. They say suicide is contagious. I pray that memorializing these victims somehow shows others that suicide is not the answer. 

5. That Veterans are the biggest helpers of other Veterans. Those who have little themselves but step up to give when a brother/sister is in need. It is the most amazing phenomenon. 

6. There’s power that comes from 140 characters on Twitter or a Facebook post when it’s about military suicide. I’ve seen a single post get over 1 million views. 

7. That people want 100% transparency with any Veteran nonprofit and rightly so. And that there are in the 40,000+ Veteran nonprofits out there, only a handful really able to help. Some turn Veterans away in their greatest hour of need. And usually, that’s when they turn to us in a last ditch effort of hope. I can only assume many do not have the strength to call on us after those they thought would help do not help at all. 

8.Even being rated 100% disabled does not mean it is enough money for a Veteran to live on. But how does one hold a job with PTS/TBI or other injuries? And if it isn’t hard enough for these toughened Warriors to have to accept the disability money, it’s even worse that they might have to go on food stamps or try to hold a less-than-heroic job to make ends meet.

9. I’ve learned military spouses can be amazingly resilient. But that they are people, too, who become exhausted as a caregiver and then have nowhere to turn themselves.

10. I’ve also learned that our organization does not give up on people. We answer every call. We work our asses off to help. We never leave a man/women behind. And for that I am so very proud.

11. Some Veterans who reach out do not want to do the work of getting better. It’s frustrating and maddening, but I’m learning to make peace with the fact that we can’t save everyone. They must want to be saved. And then they must do the heavy lifting. 

12. Finally, I’ve learned that I will NEVER, EVER not do something to help our nation’s Warriors. They signed a contract saying they’d die for us if need be, but IF they survived, they’d come home and be taken care of. And in many ways, they are, but not necessarily by the people who made the promise in the first place.

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Stop Soldier Suicide provides support and resources to all past and present military and their families. We do not provide direct clinical services or therapy, nor are we a crisis center.