“Wait, how did he know that?”
This was the immediate response from a student at The Washington Center last night after his classmate correctly answered my question on the number of veteran suicides per day.
I was surprised – not that someone knew the answer but at the challenge to his quick response. I feel like the scale of the crisis, 22 per day, is common knowledge, but I guess not everyone knows.
To me, veteran suicide awareness is booming. I see it all over Facebook and all over Twitter. There are groups and hashtags, events and fundraisers, books, and so much more spotlighting the crisis of suicide among veterans.
It occurs to me now that I am more likely to see these things than the general population because I am a veteran. The networks I am connected to, dominated by veterans, share this information with each other. I am also likely targeted by computer algorithms that make sure I see available hotlines and veteran suicide awareness events because of my online engagement with this subject. (My girlfriend tells me that she gets targeted ads on Facebook asking if she is a Marine in crisis, no doubt because of how closely she follows the 1, 2, Many project. She is neither a Marine, nor in crisis.) And I also now realize that I am more likely than others to internalize the information presented to me because of my special interest in it.
I am often heard criticizing efforts that focus on awareness alone. I want solutions. They don’t have to be perfect, but they should be at the forefront of our conversations. I want people to challenge what we know about suicide. Even better: I want people to challenge what we assume. I want people to respond to the number 22 with questions and not guilt or pessimism.
However, as I learned during my presentation last night, not everyone knows. And as I’ve discovered since getting involved in charity work: Even if they know, there’s a chance they don’t care. Not maliciously, but passively.
I’ve been fortunate to speak with audiences and engage with individuals that already care about addressing suicide and assisting veterans. What disappoints me is when I see campaigns aimed at getting people to care but not promoting ways to act once you care.
I care. I’m sure you do too. But not everyone will care enough to be active. That is fine on a grand scale. I care about equal opportunity, but I’m not passionate enough to actively do anything to promote it generally. It’s the same thing in the veteran space. Plenty of people care about veterans’ issues, but some just don’t have the passion to act on it. However, as with many issues that change in importance when we become aware of how they affect the people we know personally, we need to be prepared to act on this issue when we aren’t talking about veterans in general but our friend Sara, our brother Nick, or our neighbor Matt.
Not everyone knows about the prevalence of veteran suicide in the U.S., so we should continue to tell them. Not everyone cares, but we need to prepare those that do.