KILLEEN — Army veteran Beverly Williams, 56, tried to overdose on prescription medicine when she was 28 years old, stating she suffered from depression and took 17 sleeping pills in an effort to end her emotional suffering.
It was during that time in her life she reached out for help.
Research shows nearly one in every five people, or 43.8 million American adults, has a diagnosable mental health condition. Half of all lifetime mental disorders begin by age 14. In addition, nearly 1.7 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury each year, which may affect their cognitive and emotional functioning.
In an effort to help those with invisible wounds, the Benjamin O. Davis Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9191 hosted a mental health forum Sept. 8 at the Killeen post.
The VFW, the Campaign to Change Direction and Give an Hour partnered for day of service to promote dialogue on mental health, emotional suffering and access to care.
During the event, Lee Anna Davis spoke with more than 20 veterans about the importance of recognizing emotional suffering.
“There are five warning signs that may mean someone is in emotional pain and might need help,” Davis said.
The five warning signs include:
Personality changes — there may be a sudden or gradual changes in the way someone typically behaves.
Uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated or moody — there may be more frequent problems controlling temper.
Withdrawal or isolation from other people — someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends, stop taking part in activities that used to be enjoyable.
May neglect self-care and engage in risky behavior — there may be a change in the level of personal care or an act of poor judgment.
Overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by circumstances — a person who used to be optimistic may not find anything to be hopeful about.
Davis, 46, is retired from the Army after serving 22 years and suffers from a mental health illness.
“It was about 20 years ago that I realized something was wrong,” Davis, the VFW Post 9191 adjutant, said.
But the problem for Davis — and many veterans — is the stigma attached to those with mental health illnesses.
“I did not reach out for a long time because we’re taught to ‘suck it up and drive on’ in the Army,” Davis said. “But it is important to reach out for help.”
Davis, along with the local VFW, is trying to change the stigma that may be associated with mental health illnesses and encourage those who suffer emotionally to talk with someone.
“For a long time, I felt no one was there for me,” Davis said. “I was embarrassed and ashamed to admit something was wrong. But we are trying to encourage those who may be suffering from a mental illness to reach out for help. They aren’t alone.”
Davis is currently in school to become a clinical mental health counselor to she can reach out to those who need help.
Like Davis, Williams’ turning point in her mental health journey began when she talked with someone.
“It is hard to admit you are going through something,” Williams said. “When I was going through depression, I talked with someone and it was a big help. You would be surprised that just telling someone gives you a big relief.”
During the class, Williams learned the warning signs of someone who may be in emotional distress.
“My husband’s friend committed suicide, but we did not see the warning signs,” Williams said. “Looking back, I could tell he was withdrawn.”
Army veteran Darryl Liningham, 57, also attended the event and talked about his struggles with post traumatic stress and depression.
“The worst days are when I don’t feel like going anywhere,” Liningham said. “I stay in my apartment — my safe haven.”
Like many veterans, Liningham — an Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran — said there were concerns about being judged and the stigma that comes along with someone admitting he or she suffers from a mental illness, but offered encouragement for others.
“Revealing you have issues does not make you weak — you should speak up,” Liningham said. “A lot of people are here to help, you just need to reach out. And if you notice someone is going through something, reach out.”
Through the tools learned in the class, Liningham is confident he can reach out to those who may have invisible wounds.
“This class helped me recognize the signs in myself and others who may be struggling emotionally,” Liningham said. “Some signs are subtle and others are overt. If you aren’t paying attention, you may miss some of those warning signs.”
If you or someone you know exhibits warning signs of emotional distress, Davis said to talk to someone, whether it is a doctor, counselor, faith-based leader, family member or a friend.
For more information about free mental health services for service members, veterans and their family members, visit the Give an Hour website at www.giveanhour.org.
For more information about the Campaign to Change Direction, a national initiative to change the culture of mental health in America led by Give an Hour, visit www.changedirection.org.