Asking for help can be as difficult as the situation you’re enduring. Despite the impact it has on all of us, mental health remains stigmatized in our culture. Between that stigma and resources being cost-prohibitive or scarce — many people do not get the mental health services they need.
With May being Mental Health Awareness month and culminating with Memorial Day, we’re putting a spotlight on the experience of one of our employees and the project he’s been working on.
Nexcess Affiliate Program Manager Chris Stone served in the U.S. Army for 6 (Active) + 2 (Inactive) years. He spent his time in the Pacific Theater in a Civil Affairs Unit before receiving an honorable discharge. A husband and father of five, Chris also writes military fiction and is a freelance web developer.
Faced With an Unimaginable Loss
Following his military career, tragedy hit closer to home. Chris’s wife and best friend of ten years was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As she fought her best, Chris visited a restaurant supply store to purchase jars of mustard seeds — a nod to the bible passage that states you can move mountains with faith the size of a mustard seed. He placed jars in every room of the house to remind his wife that nothing is impossible.
Unfortunately, she lost her battle to cancer and passed away at the age of 30.
Like anyone coping with loss, Chris sought peace. He found solace in exhilarating activities like downhill skiing, surfing, and racing fast motorcycles.
Chris was engaging in risk-taking behavior that put his life in danger — something medical professionals recognize as a form of suicidal ideation, but the severity of which may be lost on someone still healing. The thrill of speed brought life into him, replacing one extreme feeling for another.
When Chris crashed his motorcycle at 165mph, his internal pain became physical pain. He ruptured five thoracic vertebrae, punctured his lung, and broke countless bones. Thanks to his helmet, which was destroyed on impact, he survived the crash.
However, Chris was told he’d never move from the waist down again and was diagnosed as a T4 paraplegic.
The Long Road to Recovery
Recovery was far from easy.
Being surrounded by others in pain who often screamed or made awful noises made it hard to feel well, or even like himself. Chris spent weeks being rehabilitated by therapists, getting pain relief, and having healthcare workers assist with more sensitive needs.
The helplessness of having to rely on others, particularly when one’s identity is tied to being a serviceman, was damaging to his psyche.
Chris also received counseling, something he may not have sought out prior to his accident. At this point he was no longer just handling grief, he was also processing his own trauma.
During this time, Chris would request to be taken to the roof for fresh air. When left alone, he would talk to his late wife, pleading for the strength to live for their two young children.
Sometimes he would lean over the side of the building in contemplation.
“I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to be me anymore.”
In the United States, roughly 4% experience suicide ideation. Over 50% of individuals with suicidal thoughts do not receive mental health services. Chris eventually did attempt suicide, overdosing on pain medication and wine. Thankfully, he survived.
During his 72 hour hold, Chris was surrounded by others who were in bad shape. “You’re around people you know are going to die. I didn’t want to be around them,” Chris said. “So I took myself to the library.”
A room filled with paperbacks, Chris was looking for a distraction. What he got was something much more meaningful.
Chris scanned the room for something interesting and picked up a book. Flipping through it, he opened to a chapter entitled, “Sometimes Mountains Don’t Move.” Almost unbelievably, the story was about a pastor counseling a man who lost his wife to breast cancer.
That moment was crucial for Chris. When he was on the rehab facility rooftop, he said he didn’t have the courage to go through with it. When he overdosed, he did want to give up. As he saw that chapter, reminiscent of the mustard seed passage, his perspective began to change.
“Ok. I get it. I’m not supposed to quit,” he told himself.
Within six months, Chris, who was diagnosed as a T4 paraplegic, overcame the odds and started walking with a single point cane.
Safeguarding Veteran Lives
Over twenty years later, Chris is far from that seventh floor roof and hospital beds. He can also walk without a cane. He’s experiencing the next chapter of his life and exploring hobbies that are, objectively, a lot safer.
While working on a military thriller novel, Chris sought out the technical accuracy of another serviceman: a Tier 1 Army Special Forces operator who had over 600 missions in Delta (The Unit). His frequent conversations helped spark an idea.
Chris Stone emerged from his dark days triumphant — he met a woman that became his best friend, wife, and soul mate. He had three more beautiful children, and works every day toward something bigger.
In keeping in contact with other veterans, Chris realized that everyday camaraderie is a life line. A simple text or a brief check-in can change a life. More aptly, it can extend and safeguard a life.
There are medical resources, PTSD programs, and centers specifically for veterans — but that is all grouped together in the same category. It’s help. Whether it is pride, accessibility, or simply failing to realize you need them, many do not seek much-needed mental health services.
This isn’t strictly a military mindset — it’s an ingrained, societal one. We often believe we should just “deal with it” and suffer silently.
Approximately two thirds of individuals with mental health disorders are left untreated. One of the many unfortunate side effects of untreated mental health is an increased risk of suicide. Approximately 8% of individuals with mental health disorders are thought to be at risk for committing suicide.
No one understands this better than members of our armed forces. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. military. The rate of suicide among veterans is significantly higher than the civilian population. A 2013 study revealed that the civilian rate of suicide per 100,000 was 14. Among veterans, it was 30.
Currently, approximately 22 veterans die by suicide every day.
A Text a Day to Save Lives
Chris, a web developer in his spare time, developed the website, 22Text0.com. The goal is to attract sponsorship and the technical know-how to develop a system for volunteers to text a veteran daily.
This would be done through a secured database of opted-in veterans’ cell phone numbers. That text, a connection they may not otherwise have, could mean the difference between life and becoming a statistic.
“I can build this website, but I don’t have the skills to tie together the tech,” says Chris.
He’d like to be able to create the means to have volunteers type in, “Hey, hope you’re great today,” and send it directly to a veteran.
A text may not be the equivalent of therapy, but that connection gives people something to look forward to. It’s a reminder that someone is out there that doesn’t have to care for you — like a doctor or therapist. It’s someone who wants to.
Join the 22Text0.com Cause
Chris hosts 22Text0.com on Nexcess servers and is actively pursuing sponsorship for his cause. We’re happy he calls Nexcess home. We are grateful for Chris, his service, and for the tremendous cause he’s working every day to support.
Chris believes that a few words can make a tremendous difference. “Thank you for your service,” or “I hope you’re having a great day” — positive affirmations like these are enough to change someone’s world. If you know or see a veteran, he encourages you to voice your appreciation.
Borrowing a line from his former superior, Drill Sergeant Harris, he adds, “If you’re able to respond, you are responsible.”
If you’re interested in sponsoring 22Text0.com or assisting with the tech end of this project, contact Chris Stone at @ChrisStoneBooks.
And, if you know a veteran — text them today.