September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Craig Roush, a member of Still I Run (SIR), a community of runners whose mission is to promote the benefits of running for mental health and end the stigma around mental illness, wants people to know they are not alone, and there is hope.
According to the CDC and NAMI, Almost 50,000 people died of suicide in 2018 alone, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. In addition, roughly half of the people who die from suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
Despite these alarming facts, talking about suicide or mental health is considered taboo. Yet, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “one in five Americans experience a mental health disorder in any given year.“
“As a society, we are not comfortable talking about mental health,” he said. “I hope my story will inspire people to get help, confide in their loved ones, and find hope. We are on this journey together. What happens to us is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to heal.”
Breaking the Silence: It’s okay to talk about suicide
Roush, who was sexually abused as a teenager, was just eight years old the first time he contemplated suicide. He recalled standing in the shower and just letting his body collapse.
The 43-year-old said he doesn’t consciously recall what caused those feelings, only the overwhelming sadness and sense of helplessness he felt.
As a child growing up, Roush said he always felt like he was living in his sister’s shadow.
Roush, a principal engineer, said his sister, who is two and half years older than him, excelled at academics.
“If my marks weren’t as good as hers, then I got the brunt of it,” he said. “Spelling isn’t one of my strong suits. I still remember how angry my father would get at me and say, “Why can Jan do this, and you can’t?
“Looking back on it, I didn’t realize how much that impacted me. In the moment, I was trying but just got more and more frustrated because we all have different talents, and that wasn’t one of my talents.”
Roush said his therapist said he developed “less than syndrome.”
“No matter what I did, no matter the level of personal success, I never felt adequate…”
Like most teenagers, he struggled to fit in. When an older boy befriended him, he thought he had finally found a true friend, but in reality, the older boy was a predator.
Roush said, for years, he suppressed the trauma of being sexually abused, but recently was able to begin to process it with the help of a trauma therapist.
After graduating from high school in 1996, he joined the Navy. He said he had a billet for the Nuclear Power Program but was ultimately assigned to a submarine.
It wasn’t long before Roush felt like he was living a nightmare.
The hazing combined with his past trauma ultimately resulted in him attempting suicide.
When he reached out for help, the military labeled him as having a personality disorder and a discharge of “General Under Honorable Conditions.”
According to the U.S. Veterans of Affairs (VA), veterans may not be eligible for certain benefits under a General Discharge, including the GI Bill.
He said the amount of shame attached to it felt “horrific.”
“It took me a very long time to tell anybody, even my wife,” Roush said.
He is currently working with the Rocky Mountain Veterans Advocacy Project to challenge his discharge and get an upgrade to get VA benefits.
“For me, it’s more about the upgrade…I want them to admit they were wrong.”
Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Roush stopped smoking and started running with his wife in 2008 as a way to get healthy. He said Still I Run is provides a sense of community and support.
“Still I Run provides me an outlet to share parts of my story without judgment,” he said. “The community is one of the most supportive that helps validate my feelings and lets me know I am not alone in my struggles. I love that I can share anything about my day, and someone will respond with supportive comments or just by telling me good job. It is truly inspiring!”
We can all help prevent suicide.
If you or someone you know needs support, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.