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'I sought help when I needed it': Top U.S. general delivers personal message on suicide awareness

'I was kindly offered an anonymous, backdoor entry and I rejected it.'

Vice Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff John Hyten (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

One of the most powerful men in the United States armed forces revealed part of his own personal story in a message this week addressing suicide among America's men and women in uniform.

What are the details?

Air Force General and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten delivered a statement shared by the Joint Staff on Twitter Tuesday directed toward "service members and leaders on the importance of seeking help and being there for your people."

The decorated general — who previously served as commander of Air Force Space Command — explained that armed forces leadership is working "relentlessly to better connect" with service members' loved ones and resources to prevent suicide among military personnel.

"To do this, we need to start with our chain of command," Hyten said, acknowledging, "I sought help when I needed it."

He explained, "When I was commander of U.S. Strategic Command, I felt like I needed to get some help. I felt like I needed to talk to somebody. So, I got an appointment with a psychiatrist, and I was kindly offered an anonymous, backdoor entry and I rejected it.

"If I'd had the flu, I'd walk through the front door to see the doctor," he continued. "This was no different."

Hyten added, "Our mental and physical health are equally as important and they're the same thing. I got the help I needed and I'm stronger for it. So don't hesitate to get professional help. There are no negative consequences to your career, and only positive results for you personally. For your family, and your friends."

His message was shared by Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Daniel Hokanson, who tweeted, "If Gen. John Hyten, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, can have the courage to reach out for help, when he felt he needed it, without fear of consequences, then so can the rest of us."

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and Thursday is Suicide Awareness Day. Both come amid continued shutdowns spurred by COVID-19, which have exacerbated mental strains and suicidal thoughts — particularly among America's young adults.

But suicide rates among veterans have been a concern long before the coronavirus emerged. Nearly a year ago, the Military Times reported, "In the last four years, the official government estimate on the number of veterans who die by suicide has gone from 22 a day to 17 a day in the latest Veterans Affairs report."

The outlet noted, "Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2.2 times more likely."

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