Non-profit organization helps raise awareness of veteran suicide

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. –Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48,500 Americans take their own lives each year.

Data show that number, an estimated 13.8 percent are veterans. Now a local non-profit organization led by veterans is on a mission to help others who may be struggling cope and move forward.

"The non-profit organization, Stop 22 Michiana launched in 2018 with one goal in mind to help save a life, even if it’s just one.

"We’re not trained counselors, our Stop 22 group., We do more with dispensing information,” said Ed Buras, the president of the non-profit organization, Stop 22 Michiana.

Stop 22 Michiana is run by veterans for veterans, to help combat suicide. The number 22, in the organization’s name comes from the average death rate by suicide each day by veterans. There were three veteran suicides in St. Joseph County and Elkhart counties in 2018. Stop 22 Trustee Kent Laudeman said it was a pivotal moment for local veterans. He said the need to raise awareness for suicide prevention grew.

Laudeman and Buras said Stop 22 is not a therapy group but a support group where veterans can feel comfortable knowing they’re all in this together.

"If we think in terms of prevention, intervention, postvention. I think we want to focus on prevention, and that’s through education efforts, raising awareness, letting people know, hey they can be an ambassador and they can help somebody,” Laudeman said.

The non-profit organization also wants others to recognize the warning signs to help prevent it from happening.

“For instance, what it says right on the front of the card, ‘bridging the gap between Veteran Suicide and Prevention,’ and that’s really what we’re talking about,” Laudeman said.

One of the resources Stop 22 hands out is a simple card with a list of crisis hotlines for veterans who are considering taking their own lives. The non-profit wants to remind the public that suicide is a preventable death, and the warning signs should be recognized. Some of the signs to watch out for include someone withdrawing from friends, family, and things they enjoy, exhibiting erratic behavior, or thinking and talking more and more about death. If a loved one is showing these signs, don’t be afraid to talk to them about what they’re struggling with and work to get them the help they need.

"We had one a few months ago, where the person didn’t reach out a family member reached out. I was able to get her the information and she finally got the information to him and got the fella to accept it and I got a call about two weeks ago, thanking and that he’s stopped talking about committing suicide and hurting himself or doing this- and he’s finally getting help and things are going well. So that’s- heh- that goes in the plus column,” Buras said.

The non-profit also has meetings like the 'Level Up Veteran Mentoring Group' sessions once a month that helps veterans take ownership of the challenges they may face.  

You can check out the Stop 22 Michiana website here for more information and resources. Stop 22 Michiana is holding a bike ride to help shine a spotlight on their cause. To register for the ride, go here. Pre-registration closes on August 8. 

If you or someone you know is in need of a support system like this, don’t be afraid to reach out. One of the resources is the veteran's crisis line which is free and confidential 24/7. Just call 1-800-273-8255 or text 8-3-8-2-5-5.There is also an online chat option and remember you can reach the national suicide prevention lifeline around the clock at 800-273-8255.

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