Daryll Mauder planned to kill himself before the fifth annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk on Sunday at the University of Akron.
“I was going to hang myself in the basement,” said Mauder, 38, who is the commander of the American Legion Post 808 at UA.
Two weeks ago, the Navy veteran gathered up all the materials he needed to take his own life. Mauder’s twist of fate — being a keynote speaker at the suicide prevention walk instead of attending his own military funeral — underscores the precarious and often terminal nature of post-traumatic stress and depression.
Mauder, joined by a golden retriever service dog named Mikey, stood beside 22 pairs of empty combat boots Sunday, drawing attention to the 22 U.S. veterans who take their lives every day, on average. In the stands at UA’s Stile Athletics Field House, nearly 200 people, many of them from nonmilitary families, listened to Mauder and other speakers while wearing suicide prevention T-shirts with the names and photos of loved ones they'd lost.
Behind accidental injuries, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Americans ages 10 to 34, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Veterans account for 8% of the U.S. population and 14% of all suicides, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Annual suicides since 2001 among active-duty servicemen and women peaked at 321 in 2012 and 2018.
A Government Accountability Office report says outreach to at-risk veterans fell in 2017 and 2018.
Young veterans like Mauder are increasingly taking their own lives. The basement hanging he scrapped would have been a fifth suicide attempt.
The Kent man is going through a bad divorce. But it’s springtime that’s got him down. It was this time of the year on his second tour in Iraq about 15 years ago when he lost the most “brothers and sisters.”
“I’ve got a lot of anniversaries right now,” said Mauder. Friends picked up on his flaring post-traumatic stress. Their encouragement to get help, to adjust his medication and enter five days of treatment in the past two weeks saved his life, Mauder said.
“I probably would have fought it like I normally do,” said Mauder, glad for the opportunity to tell his story. "If I can reach one person, I've done my job."
Miss Ohio Matti-Lynn Chrisman, 23, also spoke of a deep depression. It had ruled her life from age 16 to 23. "I was told you’re a teenager, it’s your hormones or you’re going to college," she said.
It's taken two years to manage her depression, and the fear and stigma surrounding her mental health.
“Why do you want to put all your pain out there for everyone to constantly listen to and why do you want to relive the worst parts of your life over and over again?” Chrisman said she’s often asked before speaking at suicide prevention events across Ohio. “I guess it makes me realize how much it helps others and how many people aren’t talking about mental health and how many people aren’t talking about suicide prevention.”
The event Sunday, which had been hosted for the past four years by the university, is now run by Greek life and UA's Student Veterans of America Chapter. It was held in conjunction with other walks across the nation.
Mary Rossett, director of UA’s Military Service Center and an adviser to the student veterans group, said there are roughly 800 students who have served in the military. Most are post-9/11 veterans who’ve served between six and eight years active duty, Rossett said.
She encouraged anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide, post-traumatic stress, depression or other issues to contact her office at 330-972-7382 or email@example.com. Her staff includes representatives from every branch of the military, including the National Guard.
It's served Jamie McKay. The 37-year-old married mother of two, who has the highest military decoration bestowed on a combat medic, is studying to be a civilian nurse at UA. She’s got 14 years of experience on the front lines after two tours in Afghanistan, one in Iraq and a peace-keeping mission in Kosovo.
“It changed me,” said McKay, who met her husband while stationed in Alaska before her overseas deployment. “I have family who tell me I’m not the same person I was when I left.”
Close to getting her degree, McKay said the wars “made me aware” of unrest around the world while hardening her senses, which can be dangerous if kept inside.
That’s what the walk was all about Sunday, speaking up, seeking help and remembering. And it wasn't just for military members and their friends and family.
For the fifth straight year, Judy Cox walked for her daughter, Amber Lynn Scott.
In late 2001, Cox found "a little cry for help" on Amber's wrist. Amber, 16 at the time, got mental health counseling at Akron Children's Hospital while the cut was fresh.
Four months later, before depression and anxiety medication could take full effect, Amber looped an electrical cord around a gas pipe stub in the chimney of her attic bedroom. Her little sister, Sam, was asleep on the bed.
With the other end around her neck, Amber bent her knees and passed out. Sam, who was 3 at the time, got up to look for her big sister.
"You need to go look at Sissy. She looks ugly," screamed Sam, who still talks to a counselor from time to time, Cox said.
"For years, [Sam] wouldn't talk to us because she didn't want to make us sad," said the mother, who encouraged anyone touched by suicide to "immediately seek grief counseling."
The night Amber died, she'd taken a friend, who just lost her father, to the movies as a distraction. A week earlier, Amber had talked another friend out of suicide, said Jerry Carper, Amber's uncle. And she had always longed to see her deceased grandfather again, explained Cox, who walked alongside Amber's stepfather Sunday.
Hospital machines kept Amber alive for a week. Brain activity had ceased. In the end, the silence took her.
For help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.