Pasha Palanker spent 17 years serving in the Army. During that time, he suffered countless injuries — but the physical wounds weren’t the worst of it.
“You're so far from the person that you used to be. It feels like it's too late, like nothing can be done," Palanker said.
He was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s a condition that’s frequently associated with veterans, and the alarming suicide rate among them.
The latest data show the number of veteran suicides rose more than 6% from 2005 to 2018, despite a decrease in the veteran population during the same time.
“You don't know what you don't know, and most of us don't know what to look out for," Palanker said.
PTSD is one of many factors contributing to the increase in death by suicide, a some of its root causes have nothing to do with combat.
“A lot occurs before and outside of deployment," said MaryAlyce Torpy, a clinical therapist who works with veterans.
Experts point out that some people are already facing mental health challenges before enlisting. They also note traumatic events can happen here at home during base accidents like vehicle injuries. Veterans could also develop PTSD if they are sexually assaulted during their time in the military.
Considering the myriad of factors, effective prevention measures have proven difficult. That was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The isolation caused by the pandemic is what drove me to probably the lowest point of my life," Palanker said.
Torpy, a veteran herself, understands the lack of resources for veterans suffering from mental health traumas, was an issue even before the pandemic.
“If you think you can use some help, get some help. It doesn't hurt to try. It hurts to not try," Torpy said.
But many veterans, like Palanker, credit outside groups like Headstrong for their recovery.
“Things can and will get better if you decide to take action," Palanker said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.