Program seeks to rid mental illness stigma
September 25, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 25, 2013) -- In support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, hosted by the Army Substance Abuse Program, the National Alliance of Mental Illness members Phillip Corbett and Stephen Akindura spoke about mental issues and their personal experiences.
Akindura said he wanted the audience to see the connection between mental illness and suicide.
In the U.S., there is a suicide committed every 13 minutes, he said. And for every two homicides, there were between three to five suicides.
"The majority of people who commit suicide, or complete suicide, have a diagnosable mental illness or substance abuse problem," Akindura said. "There are about 21 to 22 veterans who die by suicide -- every single day. Most of these veterans are over the age of 50."
Akindura said he has bipolar II disorder, which is a depressive type. At his darkest he would feel "intense despair, helplessness and hopelessness."
"If you could take a virtual vacuum cleaner and suck out 99 percent of the hope that you need to survive -- leaving you just enough to survive but not enough to enjoy living, then you get a small glimpse of what clinical depression feels like," Akindura said.
Akindura said one time he attempted suicide and when he woke up in the emergency room, he felt disappointed that he couldn't accomplish that either.
"The purpose of this class is to try and break that trend with awareness," he said. "So you can understand and you can see the face of people who have been there and have struggled with suicidal ideations."
Corbett is a military veteran who has manic type bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
When he was a child, he felt alone and alienated, but as he got older he became more popular. Corbett described himself as the life of the party and someone people always invited to parties. He cut himself and used drugs to help him stabilize his moods.
"I would use heroin when I felt too manic and I would use cocaine when I felt too depressed," he said.
At the age of 26, he hit rock bottom, Corbett said, and went through programs to figure out what was wrong -- but most of the time he refused treatment.
However, in 2006, he realized if he didn't get help he could die.
Through treatments and therapy, both men were able to improve their lives.
Akindura faced a recent crisis when his brother died two months ago.
"If I had not been where I am now in treatment and had the support network that I have now, I probably would have had at least one hospitalization within the past two months because that's how intense the grief has been," he said.
For Corbett, accepting his condition meant getting on medication and developing a support network.
"(NAMI) has pushed me to levels I never thought I could go," he said.
Now, Corbett helps facilitate Soldiers and civilians in Columbus and Fort Benning -- something he is passionate about, he said.
"Everybody has a bad day every now and again," he said. "But it takes real adults to address the issue and say ... 'I might have a problem, let me see if I can get some help.'"
NAMI is a nationwide nonprofit organization that began in 1979 and focuses on mental health education and reform, according to its website.
For more information or questions, contact Corbett at 706-593-9633. For more information about NAMI, visit www.nami.org.