'We can't get him back'
September 12, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Graham and his wife, Carol, visited Fort Jackson this week to discuss the dangers of the stigma associated with mental health issues.
The Grahams became advocates for suicide prevention following the loss of their two sons. The youngest, Kevin, a scholarship ROTC Cadet and pre-med student, committed suicide in 2003. His brother Jeff, an Army lieutenant, was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq the following year.
"Ten years ago, if someone told us we could have survived the death of one of our children, I wouldn't have believed it," Mark told the audience of Soldiers and civilians Tuesday morning at the Solomon Center. "For us, it was like the twin towers of the World Trade Center coming down with both our boys dying."
There is a stigma associated to mental health issues that makes it difficult to have open, productive conversations on the subject. Those barriers, the Grahams warned, cost too many people their lives.
"My wife and I were part of the stigma," Mark said. "We didn't understand it. We didn't understand that you could die from being too sad. We didn't know enough about it, and we lost our son. We can't get him back."
Mental illness was never thought of as a legitimate threat in their family, Carol said. They spoke to their children about life's other dangers, but never of the ones that spring from within. Naturally, their son's suicide prompted immediate discussions on the subject throughout their extended family.
"We found that, on both sides of our family, there's a history of mental illness," Carol said. "Immediately, the skeletons began jumping out of the closet in my family. I had quite a few family members on medication for depression.
They never told each other."
"Our error was in thinking that all it took to fight clinical depression is prayer, a proper diet, exercise and a good night's sleep. (It) kept us from getting Kevin the best medical care he deserved and needed," Mark said. "Following our son Kevin's death, we primarily focused on raising awareness of the dangers of untreated depression, and began setting up suicide prevention programs on college campuses. We somehow knew something good had to come from Kevin's death."
He said the stigma attached to depression is "terrible," and one that extends into both the military and civilian communities.
"Did you know that, this last year, we've lost more people to suicide in America than to car accidents?" Mark asked. "We can eliminate the stigma, and it can start right here with you. I'm on high blood pressure medicine, but does that bother anybody? I don't think so. But, if I was on medication for depression, what would you think?"
"Depression is real, and suicide is preventable," Carol said. "That's why your post is doing this today."