A national non-profit is overcoming mental health stigma by helping veterans through therapy.
"Iraq is where I experienced indirect fire attacks, where there’s random explosions happening. You feel your building shake. You wake up one morning and there’s a mortar landing inside your camp," said Allen Simmons, who served two tours in the Marine for four years. "When I was in Afghanistan that’s when I was in an RPG explosion. I found a bomb that was next to my foot. I was in a firefight with the Taliban."
He dealt with a lot as a Marine. At the time, he focused on staying tough and being physically strong while mental health was diminishing.
"When you’re in the military, especially in the Marine Corps, you’re on auto pilot. You’re motivated, dedicated to the corps," Simmons explained.
It wasn't until after he got out, when he was trying to transition to civilian life and being a college student, he realized he was suffering.
"I was failing my classes. I was failing my classes because I was drinking a lot. I was drinking a lot because I was depressed a lot. I was feeling suicidal. I was feeling my anxiety," said Simmons. "I was suppressing a lot of things and I didn’t realize it until I dropped out of school, until I threatened my college professor."
Simmons explained how he started writing poetry and realized it was dark, focusing on death. He realized he needed help.
"I no longer want this dead weight on me so I have to speak out. I have to talk about it. I have to write poems. I have to motivate people and inspire people."
Now, he focuses on helping other veterans like him as an ambassador for Give An Hour. Give An Hour is a national non-profit organization that offers free mental health care to veterans, active military personnel, as well as their loved ones.
It started as a direct response to 9/11.
"When people were coming back, soldiers were coming back, it was really hard at that time to access mental health care," said Dr. Trina Clayeux, CEO of Give An Hour. "It just wound up being this huge movement to make sure there was this access to mental health care that people needed and deserved."
They offer individual therapy sessions and group therapy, mostly virtual.
Dr. Trina explained that it's "not as big of a barrier as you may think. It's the connectivity. It’s being in a space with other people who have a shared experience."
"Healing, in this sense, is social. It’s not in isolation and it’s not by yourself," She went on to say. "Mental health is a social activity, and it has to be brought to light in order to get into the healing."
They're able to work with all these people because of their 4,500 volunteers, all trained to deal with active and former military, as well as their families.
"When people volunteer their time they’re coming with a different level of empathy, a different motivation and they’re really opening themselves for this. To take a spot that could be paid for and donate that to veterans just tells you they’re coming out it with a commitment," said Dr. Clayeux.
You don't need any referrals or insurance information. You can find a provider near you and talk with someone today by clicking here.
"Go to the mirror today. Get really close and look into your own eyes and ask yourself who are you? And if you can’t answer that question then you need to go seek help," said Simmons.
That's what he had to do.
"I did not know who I was," he explained. "It was like who is operating this machine because I don’t know you! I don’t know who this is. This person that’s so angry, this person that wants to kill himself like I did not know."
Now, he's challenging you to give therapy a try, to not be afraid of being vulnerable. He's actively working to help veterans like him, to break the mental health stigma, and to heal through poetry.
This is one of his poems:
Don’t let failure in prison your mind. Bring scoliosis to your spine and leave you bent.
You were born to be great. Set aside to be great.
Your ever breathe is ever precious than diamonds and pearls dig up from this world.
Take a leap into your destiny.
Look into the mirror and see what others cannot. You are royalty.
Your loyalty should be shown by how much you have grown.
Seeds of failure and success have both been sewn.
Keep marching keep moving. You’re almost home.