By Brian R. Inks, LCSW, Behavioral Health Consultant, Kenner Army Health Clinic
| Kenner Army Health Clinic | July 2, 2020
In April 2018, I lost my best friend, an active duty Marine, to suicide.
He was an amazing man, husband, father and Marine. We met when he was referred to me because he wanted to learn more about PTSD and other mental health issues so he could better serve his Marines. His goal was to reduce the stigma and improve access to behavioral health treatment while serving in the Corps.
You see, most active duty service men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces are afraid to receive behavioral health care due to the stigma of receiving treatment. They fear their military careers will be negatively impacted and their Constitutional right to bear arms will be taken away.
I had many “light bulb moments” when I was in graduate school studying to become a professional social worker. We were informed the brain is an organ of the body like the heart and stomach. If someone had a heart problem, they would see a cardiologist. If they had problems with their stomach and intestines, they would see a gastroenterologist.
The same concept applies to the brain. People who struggle with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts and substance misuse are seen by behavioral health providers, a team of therapists, nurses and psychiatrists who specialize in treating brain problems. Put simply, the brain needs helps too because it is susceptible to illness just like any other part of the body.
People can recover from brain problems with help, guidance and support, from professionals, family and friends. Sharing thoughts, feelings and emotions can be uncomfortable. It makes us feel vulnerable and some, particularly men, view this is a “weakness” because it makes them feel scared or sad, and may even bring them to tears. That is part of being human. Try to imagine what life would be like if you did not have thoughts, feelings and emotions.
I continue to grieve the death of my best friend and realize I always will. That is how much he meant to me.
What is unsettling is that he was afraid to ask for help because he thought it would negatively impact his career as a Marine and make him look “weak.” I often wonder if things would have been different if the stigma was gone and everyone treated brain problems like they did if there were issues with the heart and stomach. If that were true, my best friend would likely be alive today.
It is said that every day in the United States, 22 military veterans with treatable brain problems end their lives by suicide. This has been the case for years. I alone cannot fix this issue, but we as a community can start a conversation, which is the most important step to finding a solution. It becomes pretty simple when you view it from the aspect of the difference between life and death.
2019 Kenner Army Health Clinic's Health Guide on Family Readiness