By COLLIN BROOKS
Similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge that swept across social media in 2014 to raise over $100 million and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a new social media firestorm has started brewing for another good cause.
The new “22 pushups for 22 days” has began to pop up on social media feeds in an attempt to bring awareness to the 22-plus veterans that commit suicide each day in the United States.
Matt Sparks served in the Marines for six years and was challenged to post his 22 days on social media.
“I guess it is around the same lines as the ice bucket challenge they did about a year or so ago,” Sparks said. “The main reason that I did it was because I got challenged by the corpsman that I had when I was in Iraq. I had never really seen it -— I’d heard about it, but hadn’t looked into it before I’d been challenged.”
Sparks said that being a veteran, he has seen the type of effects that their duty can have on people.
“It’s a little bit closer to my heart because I am a veteran. I think that we need to do as much as we can for our veterans,” Sparks said. “We let them sign up right out of high school and we send them to go fight wars. And it seems like anymore that when they come back home, there isn’t really much help. And if there is any help at all, it’s not what it should be.”
Veteran Josh Gilreath served in security force of the Air Force for eight years and lost a friend to suicide. That was the final straw for him.
“After that, we kind of said that we weren’t going to have it anymore, that we were going to try and do everything that we can, instead of just talking about it,” he said. “I found myself mad and talking about it and I was just sick and tired of just talking about it.”
So Josh and his wife, Shannon, started the Second Tour Campaign in Jonesborough and have taken veterans to a University of Tennessee football game and recently held a concert with the Twangbangers during the April race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“We do stuff that our generation wants to do,” Gilreath said. “Most charities aren’t tending to our generation; not everyone wants to horseback ride and fish. They really enjoy getting out and watching fights or concerts and that is how we try to raise our money.”
While Gilreath is happy that attention is being given to the staggering number that 22 represents, he doesn’t want that to cast a bad shadow for veterans.
“Don’t feel sorry for these people, empower these people, we don’t want to sit here and make 22 a dark number, we can change that,” Gilreath said.
Pam Paranac, a suicide prevention coordinator at the Mountain Home Veteran Affairs, agrees with Gilreath.
“I really like for that to take a more positive spin,” Paranac said. “I think it is positive to get some of those positive points out there. I’ve heard those numbers ever since I have been here in 2007. I think it’s important to get people involved in something positive.
“We need to start increasing awareness and decreasing the stigma.”
Some of those positive things can be learning the warning signs of suicide. Some of them might be if you notice someone that might be feeling hopeless, trapped or like there is no way out. Maybe they are having trouble sleeping or eating. They may be feeling anxious or agitated, expressing they have no reason to live. If they engage in risky activities without thinking of the consequences or are abusing alcohol or drugs, they may also withdraw from family and friends.
Veterans can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. There is also an option to send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
More information about the Second Tour Campaign can be found on their website at secondtourn.org. They will be hosting an all veterans viewing of Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows on June 4 at 7 p.m. It will be free to veterans but will fill up quickly. For more information visit their Facebook at Second Tour Campaign.