| Special for FLORIDA TODAY
Suicide is one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized human experiences. We need a call to arms, not in the sense of guns, but rather of people working together.
Most suicides result from a combination of two things: a mental condition—depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, moral injury, survivor’s guilt, etc.—and aggravating social factors such as relationship problems, death of a loved one. one, job loss and purpose, legal problems or financial problems. The destructive clash of these forces often ends in loss of hope and then death by suicide.
This hits home personally.
Bipolar disorder hit me in 2003 while leading soldiers to war. The intense stress and excitement of combat ignited my genetic predisposition to bipolarity. My DNA was nothing but dry flake that lit up with the battle match.
For 12 months of combat, I was mostly manic, with hyper energy, creativity, problem solving skills, and enthusiasm. I felt like Superman and was on a euphoric high. But after leaving Iraq, the adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins of war wore off and I spiraled into months of depression.
Gin Martin’s previous writings:
Stronger than you think:Seeking help for bipolar disorder is a sign of strength
My history:US Army Ranger School and my pre-bipolar mental/brain condition
My Plan for Beating Mental Illness:Accept, ask, connect, have hope
I reported this to the medical staff, but they deemed me “fit for duty” because I wasn’t suicidal and didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
But in reality, I had just completed my first bipolar cycle, from the peak of mania to the pit of depression.
Over the next 11 years, I got much worse, going through increasing extremes of mania and depression until I spiraled into full-blown mania in 2014. My behavior was so strange and disturbing that I was removed from command and ordered an evaluation psychiatric Three times that month, I was diagnosed with mental health and “fit for duty.”
But it wasn’t.
Four months later, I suffered severe depression and psychosis, was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, and retired from active duty.
For the next two years, I was fighting for my life. Desperate, crippling depression and terrifying images of my own violent, bloody death filled my mind and dominated my life. Psychiatrists called these “passive suicidal ideations,” but to me, they were anything but passive—they were brutal and in true color!
In a hellish space of absolute mental illness, I was blessed to have my strong wife and family, and a friend who helped me get into the VA, where I began a road to recovery.
How to miss mental illness
Looking back, I wonder how I missed my bipolar, my family, and the military for so many years.
After reflection, I have concluded the following:
First, bipolar and other mental conditions can be difficult to recognize and diagnose, even for medical professionals, especially those who practice outside of psychiatry. Second, family members are like the proverbial frog in a slowly heating pot of water; slight changes over time are too small and incremental to warrant attention or alarm. Third, given the prevalence of stigma and misinformation, when someone detects a mental condition, they are often reluctant to engage with the person.
To move towards a better future, countermeasures should include the following:
Empower people to recognize the symptoms of common mental conditions and empower them to refer the service member or colleague to medical professionals if they spot a problem. Develop “secure” communication channels for reporting problems in a way that eliminates the need to officially record such communication. Expand the notion of a “battle buddy” to include peer support. Implore senior leaders to have a confidant who can tell the boss “anything” about him, including how others view his behavior, the overall state of the organization, and so on. and what people think and say, all without the leader getting angry or punishing the confidant. Educate that mental conditions, such as diabetes, are physiologically real, and are not the fault of those affected, and are nothing to be ashamed of.
Although I never transitioned from passive to active suicidal ideation, I wanted to die and was in danger of committing suicide. I share my story to illustrate how someone with a similar condition, unchecked, could take that dark path to suicide.
Mental conditions are complex and arise from the presence of multiple factors simultaneously. Therefore, they are beyond the control of those affected and do not represent a character flaw or a lack of willpower.
To prevail in this mission, we must change the perception of a person who has a mental condition. We need to see them through the same lens as we see a woman fighting breast cancer or a man fighting chronic heart disease, fighting a heroic cause.
And we will know we are at the height of inclusion when the survivor of the suicide attempt and the person living with mental illness are extended with concern, respect and understanding, freely and unreservedly.
Check yourself and your friends. If warning signs are present, seek medical help immediately. It could be a matter of life and death.
Be a leader and spread the word.
Help stop stigma, prevent suicides and save lives!
With help from David Bartley, Psychology Today
If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, get help right away. For 24/7 help, dial 988 988 Suicide and Lifeline crisisor contact him Crisis text line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Gregg Martin is an Army combat veteran, retired 2-star general, and bipolar survivor and thriver. Formerly president of the National Defense University, he is a qualified aerospace engineer and a graduate of West Point and MIT. He lives in Cocoa Beach.
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