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Understanding Suicide

Gina Bartolomeo

Gina currently serves as the Region III Engagement Manager. She received her Bachelor's degree in political science at Fordham University in the Bronx (represent), after which she moved to D.C. to rock corporate America. Then, she switched gears and now works for the Warrior-Scholar Project. Gina is Italian, loves to hate running, and roots for the New York Rangers.

I know nothing about suicide. I know even less so about military veterans who commit suicide. I first became involved with veterans through work I did as a consultant at the VA several years ago. One day at work, I found Team Rubicon via a Facebook post on the VA’s page. As an employee, I felt like I didn’t know nearly enough about veterans, so I figured, why not volunteer with some? Plus, demolishing houses is cool, right?

Five months later, I’m up to my knees in insulation, under the beating Oklahoma sun. One by one, I began bonding with my teammates, listening to their stories about inner demons that have plagued them, friends who’ve killed themselves, things they saw at war, and how they felt.

Gina (right) was one of hundreds of volunteers deployed on Operation: Starting Gun in Moore, Oklahoma in 2013.
Gina (right) deployed on Operation: Rising Eagle in Faulkner County, Arkansas in the wake of the tornadoes that devastated the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia.

One night, I sat on the curb outside a stuffy high school gym and listened to my friend Deric tell his story – how he couldn’t even flinch telling me about being blown up, losing a friend to drugs, or wanting to die himself. Right then, I realized not all wounds are visible.

I’ve never known anyone who has taken his or her life. Depression, however, I was familiar with. Drug and alcohol abuse shook my life in several ways, but suicide? Never. I never understood what made someone not want to live on Earth any longer. I never heard someone say “It’s not worth it anymore” or “I’m in so much pain I don’t want to fight it.” And then one day, I got an email, informing me of someone in my TR region killed himself.

Suddenly, it was real…and it kept getting real. After that, I received several messages about people I knew who were at the lowest possible points in their lives, a time when living wasn’t an option. And these people were my friends.

How could I stop my friends from taking their own lives? I went to ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) through Team Rubicon with fellow members where I gained some knowledge, tools, and experience to help me in case I were ever in a situation where someone wanted to kill him/herself. I learned to take suicide seriously, how to ask outright if someone wanted to end their life, but most of all, I learned there were resources out there. Resources like Give an Hour, where licensed therapists give an hour of their time to veterans and their loved ones, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, also known as Veterans Crisis Line, (1-800-273-TALK) or (1-800-273-8255). To me, however, the most useful resources were sitting on my left and my right during the training. They were my Team Rubicon peers, and they cared enough to give up their weekend to see to it that no more of their friends would kill themselves.

I know nothing about suicide. I don’t know what it takes to be at the lowest point possible, to want to end it all. What I do know is this – I don’t want any more of my friends to commit suicide or feel like suicide is the answer. That is why, as a civilian, I have devoted my life and career to working for and with veterans…because they are my friends.