The Cost of Stigma

CPL Matthew Dillion Springer, 23, of Hebron, Kentucky died by suicide on December 24, 2020. On September 9, 2020, he publicly posted on his Facebook account that he had been struggling, you can read his post at the end of this article. I learned of his death via an email newsletter I subscribe to that honors deceased military service members. They focus a lot on military mental health and suicide awareness and prevention as many of the men and women they feature have died by suicide.

I debated whether or not to share the post that Matt wrote, but he shared it publicly to inform people of what he was struggling with and to shed light on something so many young men face while battling a mental health condition. I feel as though not sharing it would be yet another consequence of stigma. I want others to read it because it really shows the struggle, both internal and external that he felt.

Knowing how things turned out for him and his family is a real gut punch. I know that thought process in his post, it is so familiar and relatable to me and to countless others. I can’t begin to tell you how many young men I’ve had discussions with about mental health issues and the societal view that it’s a sign of weakness. For young men, this perception can be so devastating. It’s a major part of stigma and stigma kills.

When I got discharged from the Marine Corps in 2008 for my mental health condition, I was told by people inside and outside the military that I was a weak person because of it. So, I applaud Matt for coming to the realization that his struggle with mental health was not a weakness, but a sign of strength and his willingness to speak openly about it was a sign of courage.

I don’t know the details of what happened between September and December that led to his decision to attempt suicide again, but I’m sure it was a combination of external pressures and internal struggle. I don’t know what support systems he had available to him and what he was utilizing, he doesn’t mention any of that in his post.

Please understand that there are countless government and non-government resources available, you all know the drill, I post about this stuff constantly. Not every resource is right for every person, you’ve got to browse and try different things until you find what works. I’m alive today because there are things that work!

The road to recovery is long and hard, nothing in life that’s ever worth overcoming is ever easy. And mental health conditions and substance use disorders are so worth overcoming! Every young man wants to be challenged as part of his coming-of-age process, and there is no greater challenge than facing death and saying “not today motherf*cker!”

With the proper tools and support systems in place, not only can you survive, but you can thrive! Battling mental health and substance use should never be shamed, it should be applauded and celebrated! People who have struggled with these things are the strongest people I have ever met!

I won’t shame, smear, or dishonor Matt for the decision he made to attempt again. I’ve been in that mindset and I know full well that his judgment was clouded by his mental health condition. I have explained and described this countless times in all of my writings, but mental health conditions and substance use disorders cast a veil over you and through this distorted filter you cannot see things as they once were before the onset of symptoms.

I’ve probably said this a thousand times: no one wants to die, people just don’t want to hurt anymore and mental health conditions and substance use disorders trick us into believing that our lives and our pain are one synonymous thing.

When you’re deep into the throws of mental anguish, floating upside down in the dark waves that keeping rushing over you time and time again, it is so hard to know which way is up. It’s so hard to see and understand much of anything, and you feel so damn alone. But when you get help and break the surface and rise up above the darkness and the pressure of those depths dissipates, and the weight is lifted and the sky is made clear again, born on the horizon the sun shines like hope after the darkest nights that you have ever known.

Hope… this above all else must be believed in for recovery to ever be possible. To Matthew I say:

Saepius Exertus, Semper Fidelis, Frater Infinitas!

If you or someone you know needs help, here are a few places to start:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources, and best practices for professionals. Spanish and hearing impaired communication available.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline
Free, confidential, 24/7 (even holidays), treatment referral and information service (English and Spanish), for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use issues.

SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline
Provides 24/7 (even holidays) assistance with crisis counseling and support for people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. Call or text options available.

Crisis Text Line
(text the word HELLO to 741741)
Trained Crisis Counselors who volunteer their time to provide 24/7, free and confidential support for people in crisis, utilizing active listening and collaborative problem solving.

The Trevor Project
A 24/7 resource for LGBTQ+ youth struggling with a crisis or suicidal thoughts. The line is staffed by trained counselors.

You can Learn more about Matthew Springer by accessing his obituary provided by Don Catchen & Son Funeral Homes. You can also read the tribute from the newsletter I subscribe to:

“CPL Matthew Dillion Springer, 23, of the U.S. Marines, lost the battle with his demons on December 24, 2020.  He was born July 28, 1997, and called Kentucky his home. Springer served honorably from July 27, 2015 – July 26, 2020.

Springer believed in everything that America stands for and found his “purpose” being a Marine. Outside of the military, he became an advocate for mental health issues and wanted to bring awareness to mental illness, depression, and PTSD that veterans often suffer.

Springer was a dedicated family man, and his wife and young son were his entire world. When his son was born, he felt he finally understood what true love was. We join friends and family in remembering a father, husband, and son who meant so much to so many. Semper Fi Marine. Til Valhalla!”

© 2021, Til Valhalla Project

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