COLORADO SPRINGS — As we work to rebound from the effects of the pandemic, we’re talking about a really tough subject, military suicides.
According to the most recent complete data from the Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report (2019) & the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2018):
- 503 service members died by suicide in 2019
- predominantly among young and enlisted members
- additionally, 193 family members of military members also died by suicide in 2019
- 17.6 veterans died by suicide daily in 2018
- deaths account for 13.8% of all US suicides in 2018
News5's Elizabeth Watts met with an Air Force Military Spouse of the Year is speaking out on her experiences, hoping to encourage others to get help. Unfortunately, the data from 2 years ago does not show the full picture of the suicides in the military across active duty, reserves and National Guard units.
Kristen Christy has an infectious spirit. She’s a mom, a volunteer, a military spouse, and her smile lights up the room even though she’s experienced some of the darkest days.
“I never in a million years would have expected to be sitting here talking about this subject,” Christy said, “13 years ago my first husband took his life after a deployment.”
It happened in 2008, four years after Donald Christy’s deployment.
“(Speaking) not as a counselor, just as a human being, I think post-traumatic stress was a stowaway from his deployment that was just not on the radar,” Christy said.
At the time their sons were 12 and 14. It was a difficult journey raising their two boys as they all mourned. Kristen received a distressing voicemail from her youngest Ben on his 20th birthday.
“I miss dad, I miss dad so much. I can’t live without him,” it said.
Christy said Ben tried to take his life that night. Thankfully he got help. He’s now working at Edwards Air Force Base as a government employee.
Sadly, her older son Ryan disappeared more than five years ago. He would be 27 today.
“Ryan Christy, if you’re out there and you see this. I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I would love a phone call if you’re out there,” Christy said.
She keeps the same phone number just in case.
Through Christy’s strong faith and sense of community, she was able to open up about their story ten years after Donald’s death when she became Air Force Military Spouse of the Year in 2018.
“I tell our story in the hope that maybe someone down the line, when they’re in a really dark place, that they’ll remember. It will give them pause. Because so often it’s within minutes of ideation that it happens. We don’t have any time to waste,” Christy said.
She now teaches resiliency. She’s done over 120 presentations. She has received coins from the military elite as a thank you for her testimony.
She’s learned of at least 21 lives who have been saved after hearing her son’s voicemail, “One gentleman walked out (of the presentation) and he had a piece of paper in his hand. It was a suicide note. He was planning on taking his life that night. But he had two little boys at home. He felt like he was a burden to his family,” Christy said, “It saved his life. He was meant to be there.”
While there is more suicide awareness now than ever before, with the pandemic Christy is heartbroken because she learned of at least five local military spouses who took their lives last year.
Christy said suicide rates are only increasing, “The veteran community. It’s no longer 22 on average a day. It’s 27 and a half. It’s going the wrong way.”
She added that this is a community issue.
“Resiliency is a skill. We learn skills and we master skills. It’s not something you’re born with,” Christy said,” The more we can help people develop those skills when they’re active duty, hopefully when they transition to become veterans, they’ll have those resources available and maybe we won’t have such a veteran crisis that we have now.”
She said we have to ask the hard questions, including ‘Are you thinking of hurting yourself?’ knowing that if they say “yes” there are resources out there and people like her ready to jump at a moments notice and help save lives.
Christy helped spearhead the three-digit suicide lifeline number planned to roll out in Summer 2022.
According to the United Way, the new service will allow a shift from a law enforcement and justice system response to one of immediately connecting to care for individuals in suicidal, mental health and substance use crises. The number is the first step to make a fundamental shift in how people in crisis are engaged in our communities. When you’ve got a police, fire or rescue emergency, you call 911. When you have an urgent mental health need, you’ll call 988.
For now, if you or someone you know is struggling, there is help available 24/7.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - When you call there is an option to talk with someone specifically on the Military Crisis Line.
- Veterans Crisis Line - The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, anonymous, confidential resource that’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
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