Members of the Society of Public Health Advocates and Future Healthcare Leaders graduate student organizations came together to take on the “22 push-up challenge” to raise awareness of the crisis of veteran suicide. The event was held in the Hofstra Dome on Nov. 10, just before Veterans Day.
The popular social media challenge draws attention to a finding that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day, often because of the stress of mental and physical health issues, financial troubles and substance abuse after re-entering civilian life. Nationally, veterans account for almost 18 percent of all suicides.
“When we raise awareness about veteran suicide, we are also raising awareness of the mental health issues that thousands of veterans suffer from. The wounds of war are not always visible and it is important to move away from the stigma that keeps you from asking for help,” said Lisa Fischer, a second-year graduate student in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program who served with the Marine Corps from 2004-2013, including a deployment to Iraq. “Family and friends should know the signs to look for, and as a veteran myself, I would want my peers to know it is okay to reach out.”
“There are many veterans on Long Island and it is important for students especially in public health to support this population,” she added, noting that there are a combined 130,000 veterans in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Fischer currently works part-time at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a program support assistant for the Mind-Body Alternative medicine program.
“The transition to civilian life after active duty is challenging,” said MPH alumna and Iraq War veteran Berlinda Olivier, who still serves one weekend a month in the National Guard. “Going from wearing the uniform every day to now having the obligations of work, school, family and military life brings a lot of stress, so it’s a balance I have to maintain every day.”
She spoke at the event about several resources that are available to veterans at risk, including the Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255), National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), BootsOnTheGroundNY.com, and Project9Line.org.
MPH Program Associate Professor Dr. Corinne Kyriacou noted that one of the missions of the program is to get students to think about how to identify and solve problems in society before they become a crisis. “You can consider suicide a disease epidemic, and the challenge for public health professionals is to consider what we can do about prevention in the primary stages, how can we have better outreach to this population, how do we provide services are that accessible and affordable, and how do we make sure physicians and healthcare providers understand the signs and symptoms.”
Watch the challenge: