Veterans open up about struggles with mental illness and suicide in The Power of a Story

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Veterans open up about struggles with mental illness and suicide in The Power of a Story

Panelist for The Power of a Story open the forum for audience questions.

Panelist for The Power of a Story open the forum for audience questions.

Photo Courtesy of Arts & Lectures

Panelist for The Power of a Story open the forum for audience questions.

Photo Courtesy of Arts & Lectures

Photo Courtesy of Arts & Lectures

Panelist for The Power of a Story open the forum for audience questions.

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Hundreds of students, faculty, alumni, veterans, and military gathered at the USU Ballroom on Sept. 23 to hear the stories of five resilient veterans at The Power of a Story, part of the Arts & Lectures series.

 

The Power of a Story’s mission statement is “to build resilience for veterans through community and conversations.” The event opened with a short film sponsored by the American Warrior Association featuring the grim reality of the eternal struggle of America’s military and veterans and was followed by a brief moment of silence for the average of 20 veterans that commit suicide every single day.

 

“I’m filled with hope to see so many of you here this evening,” said Supervisor Jim Desmond, a veteran of the US Navy. He noted that suicide rates among military and veterans are at the highest in ten years and that one-third of San Diego county is connected somehow to the military. 

 

The forum was then opened to introduce the five guest speakers: Marine veteran Michael Johnson, Navy veteran Paula Wold, Navy veteran Jalitza “Jolly” Cardona, Marine veteran William Felty, Army veteran Steven Padilla and Air Force veteran Steven Sutherland.

 

The panel opened with a powerful spoken word poem written by CSUSM senior Steven Sutherland, titled “22”.

 

Sara Correll, who moderated the Q&A portion of the panel, shared her connection to the organization. “The power of our stories can bring healing and connection to people with different backgrounds,” said Correll. “Open your hearts to the stories you will hear.”

 

The five guest speakers then took turns sharing their unique and powerful stories including homelessness, suicidal thoughts and actions, sexism, survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

 

“One of the hardest things I had to deal with was finding my voice and finding what my purpose was,” said Steven Padilla when asked about the importance of people sharing their stories. “You don’t know who it will touch or embolden. You don’t know where you might end up.”

 

The number one piece of advice that Steven Sutherland could give for anyone struggling with any mental illness was to “Be strong enough to pick up the phone… Someone will be there for you.”

 

Towards the end of the event, the panel was opened for the audience’s questions and William Felty invited those in the audience to compete in the “22 challenge” — Where one does 22 pushups every day, in order to remember the lives that have been lost to suicide.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

For information on upcoming events in the Arts & Lectures series, visit csusm.edu/al.

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