Someone told me there was another way

Oct. 3, 2011
By Ann Longboy, Navy veteran

Editor’s Note: This account was first published by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. The site is sharing personal accounts from members of the military community who have intervened and successfully prevented a suicide, assisted someone in need, or took steps to seek help themselves when they experienced suicidal thoughts.

I offer my experience as a person who was suicidal and received help, and as a survivor of my brother’s suicide nearly 18 years later.

In early 1987, while a young enlisted Sailor, I found myself in a very dark, lonely emotional place. There were a lot of reasons why I came to be in that state, but I only knew that I wanted the pain to stop. I was a high-performing sailor, but my supervisor picked up on something in me that wasn’t right. He sent me to a stress management workshop conducted by Navy Mental Health.

At the workshop, I broke completely down. The psychologist conducting the workshop took me on as his patient, my command supported my recovery, and I went on to a 24-year Navy career as a limited duty officer, retiring as a lieutenant commander in 2008. I am now serving as a Department of Defense civilian at U.S. Pacific Command Headquarters. The intervention of my leadership, in a time where getting such help was not well-supported in the military, was instrumental in saving my life, and saving me for a very productive career.

Then, horror came in the form of my younger brother’s suicide in 2004. I’ll never forget the call from my completely hysterical mother and her abject, soul-wrenching grief. I will forever remember seeing his lifeless body in the coffin, and my absolute pain mixed with gratefulness that I had not done this all those years ago. My other brother blamed himself, and watching him go through that guilt tore at my heart. None of us know why this happened; he left no note or indication. We only know that he wanted to leave.

My mother now lives with me and she will never be the same, suffering from severe depression and high anxiety. In fact, a year after my brother died, emergency medical service had to spirit her away to a hospital or she would have killed herself also. The pain suicide leaves with the suicide survivors never seems to go away — we just learn to live with it.

Talking about my experience has helped me, and I have been able to help a few others find help when they needed it. I find that doing this somehow makes it seem like my brother lived (my family never talks about it, and I find this difficult to deal with), did not die in vain, and that his death matters only if it helps someone else. He was only 22 years old. He was a handsome, intelligent young man with blond hair and deep blue eyes, who died too young because he didn’t know that he had other options — options like I was given by my Navy chain of command. Someone told me there was another way, and I believed it — and I’m so glad I did.

If you are currently having thoughts of suicide or know someone that is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) for immediate help. Military community members, choose 1.