Brian Kinsella never had any suicidal thoughts when he served in the U.S. Army. But he knew people who did and who followed through with them.
"I think going through deployment as a single man who didn't have a family or children at home, I was in a much different place," Kinsella told TheBlaze. "I didn't deal with some things that other soldiers dealt with."
Kinsella's experience led him to create Stop Soldier Suicide, a non-profit that aims to raise awareness about suicide in the military and offer mental health counseling to soldiers who need it. On Friday, he's attempting to further his cause by embarking on a 5,000-mile cross-country trip. It starts in Washington state, ends in New York City and he's doing the whole thing on a Harley motorcycle.
Through the Stop Soldier Suicide website and social media, Kinsella said he's seen outpouring of support across the country for his trip. He's hoping many of the people who have reached out, soldiers and non-soldiers alike, will join him on their own Harleys as he passes through their towns.
The suicide rate is a big concern for the Army. So far in 2012 (through July), there have been 66 confirmed suicides among active-duty Army personnel and 50 more potential suicides that are still being investigated. For all of last year, the Army reported 165 confirmed suicides. Among non-active soldiers, there have been 54 confirmed suicides among Army National Guard and Army Reserve personnel compared with 118 confirmed suicides for all of 2011.
Kinsella, a former captain who served from 2006 to 2010 and now works on Wall Street, says the military "does a great job" raising awareness and making help available to soldiers who need it. But, he said "at the end of the day, given the stigma that's there, soldiers will hold back from trying to seek help." He described the stigma as "a general fear that there will be repercussions" for people who seek mental health care.
"I realized that individual command climates are so important," Kinsella said, "in fostering an environment where you can have soldiers feel comfortable coming forward and talk about things that may lead to suicide: overall life satisfaction, divorce, finding a job outside of the military, substance abuse."
Stop Soldier Suicide works to end the stigma within the military, but also promotes that there are places outside of government agencies that soldiers can turn to for mental help.
"If someone comes to us and says, 'I have this suicidal thought and it's because I can't get a job,' we say we're going to hook you up with someone who can give you the help you need but we'll also set you up with an organization in your community who can help you find a job," Kinsella said.
He said he has yet to hear any official support from the White House or Congress but he has been in touch with other government agencies. "What we have received from the Dept. of the Army has been kind of a green light to meet with people, individual units, individual teams across the country," he said. "The Dept. of Veterans Affairs has been very receptive. We have some very good meetings set up with the V.A. when I travel through D.C."
As for the tour, Kinsella said the idea of driving across the country was kicked around as a low-cost way to raise awareness. "There's a huge Harley ridership community in both active and veteran community," he said. "We wanted to tap into that."
Kinsella's tour runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 13. He'll be on TheBlaze TV's Wilkow! tonight to share more.