Panel discussion shines light on veteran suicide

Photo by Tevin Stinson- Army Veteran Bill Hayes

Panel discussion shines light on veteran suicide
June 08
05:00 2017

Although numbers are down from a year ago, each day, 20 veterans die by suicide in the United States. When compared to the general population, those who protect our freedom only make up 7 percent of the total population but, they make up 20 percent of total number of suicides.

During a panel discussion hosted by the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County and several other organizations last week Bill Hayes, who now works as a mental health social worker at the Veterans Administration (VA) in Salisbury, said soon after joining the Army in 1996 he started to notice a change.

“I noticed that I would have these moments of grandiosity. I felt like I could jump on top of the world, that I could stay up late and not sleep for weeks at a time,” said Hayes. “I would get this real high buzz out of it, no drugs involved. Then I would crash and have weeks of incredible depression. Things were going crazy for lack of a better word.”

Like countless other soldiers who suffer from depression, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Hayes said at first instead of seeking treatment, in true military culture he decided to “pull himself up by his boot straps” and fight on. Soon thereafter Hayes was admitted into the psychiatric wing of the military hospital following a suicide attempt.

He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and forced to retire from the Army.

As he spoke to the dozens of veterans, and other members of the community in attendance, Hayes said his hardships, and thoughts of suicide is what inspired him to become a social worker. He said he learned early at the VA that what helps most is building a personal relationship with men and women. He also encouraged others in the community to reach out to warriors in need. 

“I can get certified in certain therapies, and that’s great, but the bottom line is the best thing I can do, and even community members can do, is sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation,” continued Hayes. Reaching out is the main things. They want to be heard.”

The panel also featured VA peer support specialist and group facilitator Harold Moore, and Navy veteran Jeremy Knapp and his wife, Heather. Along with the powerful discussion, the event also featured several vendors that provided information on where local veterans can seek help with everything from housing, to gun locks for safety. Suicide prevention care manager Tiffany Hall, and Salem College Assistant Sociology Professor Kimya Dennis also provided important information as well.

Following the event. Navy veteran James Tucker said it felt good to know that there is so much help in the area for Veterans in need. He said after returning from combat, all military personnel have some degree of PTSD.

“After you live a certain way for so long it’s hard to lose that train of thought. We all suffer from PTSD but it’s all about how you manage it,” continued Tucker. “We have to work to together to fight suicide amongst Veterans and everyday civilians. Communication can go a long way. In some cases, it can save a life.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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