By Jon Connor, ASC Public AffairsSeptember 28, 2012
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- To some, she was just a number. To the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs, she was another alarming veteran suicide statistic. But to Barbara Davis, it was her daughter.
Davis, who served as a one of several guest speakers during the Army Sustainment Command's suicide prevention 'stand down' day Sept. 27, delivered a riveting personal account of her daughter's death during her first public presentation.
The suicide prevention education at RIA was part of an Armywide stand down day directed by the Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, to devote time to educate all Army personnel on ways to prevent suicide.
The Army experienced its worst month of suicide during July, according to published reports, with 38 Soldier suspected suicides, a record high monthly total. This includes active-duty, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers.
Despite an aggressive ongoing plan to turn the tide on rising numbers the past few years, the numbers continue to ascend with the Army losing more people to suicide than in combat in Afghanistan, published reports show.
"I cannot overemphasize how important this issue is to me. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy to our Families, to our units, and to our Army," stated Odierno in an Armywide e-mail message sent to the force Sept. 27.
"We must work together to create a culture and an environment where people feel comfortable getting the behavioral health assistance that they need. Our Warrior Ethos states 'I will never leave a fallen comrade,' he stated. "I need everyone to take that to heart. Every individual contemplating suicide has a friend, Family member, or leader in the position to help. I need you all to get involved. Intervening requires personal courage and leadership. It isn't easy, but there is no room for bystanders."
Davis, a resident of Davenport, Iowa, understands there is no room for bystanders either, and that is why she is sharing the story of her daughter, Damika Denise Davis. Her presentation on Sept. 27 was the first time she took her daughter's death public.
Damika, 29, a Navy veteran, jumped to her death off the Government Bridge that connects Davenport to RIA, and into the Mississippi River. Just before, Damika had told her mother she was going for a walk as she put on her sneakers while her mother made lunch for them.
"I'm grateful to God," Davis told spellbound attendees in Building 350, known as the Joint Munitions Command headquarters. "He stabilized and strengthened to allow me to stand before you."
Davis urged that everyone needs to get out in the community and "get to work" by educating and getting resources to those that need help.
"Suicide is taking over mental illness," she said.
Davis explained that Damika was diagnosed in the summer of 2009 by a VA doctor in Iowa City with paranoia, schizophrenia, a severe case of bipolar disorder, hallucinations, and panic attacks. Yet, no prior Navy or VA paperwork indicated any of this, she said.
After 30 days of treatment in Iowa City, Damika was released and appeared to be healed, Davis said.
She had a "new walk, a new talk; it was like a miracle," Davis said.
But within 30 days, Damika was dead.
Her mother said Damika began experiencing panic attacks and anxiety, asking questions like " 'How can live with this sickness'" or get married and raise a family?
A Defense Department study showed 45 percent of service members who died by suicide were seen by military health care professionals within 30 days before their deaths, a recent Army Times article stated.
Regardless of the method, "suicide is a slow, painful death," Davis said, because of the painful turmoil one suffers along the way. "She had no hope -- it was gone."
The night that turned into the day of Aug. 20, Damika suffered, her mother said, explaining that Damika went from an emergency room to the care of her VA doctor. The doctor assured her that she would be feeling better once the medications took effect.
The tough but obligatory question of "Are you suicidal?" was asked and the answer was "no," Davis said of her daughter's response.
With this, Damika was cleared to go home. Around lunchtime, Damika said she was going for a walk.
"I never saw my daughter [alive] again," Davis said. "My daughter sprinted to the Rock Island Arsenal bridge, jumped off, and drowned."
Damika is buried at the National Cemetery on RIA. She left behind her mother, younger sister, Jamila, and older brother, Landon. She was preceded in death by her father, Jeffery.
Davis said he had to make a choice and decided to get help. "I screamed to the mountain top," Davis said, and doors opened up to move forward.
Davis said she has lived with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression since her daughter's death.
"We have got to put an end to suicide. Mental illness is rampant," she said, explaining it's everywhere in society. "There is a prejudice and stigma that has got to end."
For two years Davis did not work. But, through education and knowledge, Davis has been putting her life back together.
"Suicide tried to grip me and paralyze me" but through hope, help and support, "my voice [to help] is never going to end."
Davis said she is here to help and so must everyone else.
"I charge you all; get out in the community," she said, and get involved to help educate those who need help with the proper resources.
(Editor's note: Barbara Davis is an active NAMI member/advocate. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For those in the Quad Cities area seeking more information, the web site is www.namiscottcounty.org The phone number is (563) 322-8870. Davis devotes her free time to being a facilitator for NAMI Scott County Suicide Survivors Support Group in Davenport. In her biography, Davis states:"Dedication and commitment and a strong passion and desire to serve others is my Purpose and Calling for being here today!" Additionally, there are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and Military Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, Press 1, which provide free, 24 hours/day, confidential services.)