SALT LAKE CITY -- Above Interstate 15 in American Fork, motorists may have passed right by them. A family, minus one, stopped at an overpass, with American flags in hand.
“This is the least I could do,” said 11-year-old Connor Sturgeon.
For a couple hours, the Boy Scout took a break from Memorial Day festivities to stand in uniform with his mother and younger brother.
“I’ve got three boys. My oldest is the military one,” said Angela Sturgeon. “We need to focus on something else other than ourselves.”
The Sturgeons weren’t alone in that sentiment.
Six months ago, Utah County veteran Jonathan Walker founded a movement, Standing Quietly. It called on veterans and volunteers to join together along city and state roads to honor those who have served and died. Walker began it on Veterans Day of 2014. By Memorial Day, it had spread from coast to coast.
“We met about 6:30 this morning,” said Officer Logan Roseman of the Lehi Police Department.
In Lehi, the event took on another meaning. Lining either side of an overpass, veterans and local police officers carried 22 flags, symbolizing the 22 veterans who commit suicide, on average, every day.
“That’s a tragedy. That’s 22 people dead. That’s unbelievable. I can’t imagine that,” said Jack Pinckney, a member of the U.S. Navy Reserves.
Suicide rates among service men and women have risen over the last few years. While efforts have been made to reduce the stigma tied to mental health issues, Craig Bryan of the National Center for Veterans Studies said much more work is needed.
“They legitimately feel like they don’t belong, they don’t fit in,” Bryan said. “It’s something that I think that we’ve been working very aggressively to bridge that gap to make sure that no veteran ever feels that they are left behind, that they’re by themselves.”
Bryan’s research has found that deployment alone does not lead to suicide. It’s the exposure to certain elements, while in combat, that shapes a person’s struggles upon their return.
According to Bryan, the public, as well as the health community, needs to be more aware of those struggles in order to help.
“What we need to do next is make sure that everybody knows how to do these therapies,” Bryan said.
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Military personnel can press “1” to reach a staff member trained in issues of combat and PTSD. According to Bryan, often times it is a veteran who will pick up the phone to help.