Carol said she knew the moment her husband walked in the door.
Earlier that morning, she had heard that two soldiers were killed in Iraq, where her oldest son was deployed. She worried that he had been one of them, but her husband Mark — a veteran himself — assured her they would have heard something already. Now, though, he was home early from work, and he was accompanied by an army general. The news sent her crumpling to the floor, crawling for her Bible.
Just a few months before, her son Kevin had hung himself after a tearful conversation on the phone with his dad. Carol and Mark were devastated; Kevin had been a standout cadet in his ROTC program, became a 4-star general, but he always struggled with sadness.
"I just gave him a bunch of Mom advice: 'exercise more, 'sleep more,' 'eat more vegetables,'" Carol told Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton. "I tried to pray it away. I wrote letters to God, asking to lift Kevin's 'spirit of depression.' And we didn't tell anyone. I thought: 'He's doing so well in school. Don't rock the boat.' We kept it a secret."
Now, in a matter of months, both of her sons were gone. Both were killed by war; one in combat, and the other by suicide.
But Mark and Carol's story took on a new level of importance this week. After Stanton featured them, their story went viral. And it was spreading a program that just might help families like theirs in the future.
Through a collaboration with former Marine captain Zachary Iscol, who founded The Headstrong Project, an organization that provides Iraq and Afghanistan vets with free mental health care, Stanton has helped the program raise more than $300,000.
For two weeks, the acclaimed photographer has been featuring heart-wrenching military stories that have to do with mental health. Many Americans are still unaware that 20 veterans commit suicide a day, a number that researchers found after a Department of Veteran Affairs study completed this July.
Other veterans have been fighting to institute new laws, like the Clay Hunt SAV Act, to help provide more accessible health care to veterans when they get home.
While telling stories like Mark and Carol's, Stanton has been promoting Headstrong. According to the Indiegogo campaign, Headstrong has already made serious impacts on the lives of veterans:
- 92 percent reported less suicidal ideation
- 91 percent reported better relationships
- 95 percent reported improvements in their jobs and education
- 89 percent used less drugs and alcohol
- 78 percent required less or no medication for their symptoms.
Since HONY has been featuring veterans through its partnership with Headstrong, it has received an outpouring of support online and was even featured by The Washington Post.
Although today was the last day HONY will feature veterans, Headstrong is still taking donations on its Indiegogo page (which has so far tripled its goal of $100,000). You can donate here.