A four-day memorial event is being organized by Kim Ruocco, the national director of suicide education and outreach at Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, this weekend.
Ruocco is bringing together about 100 suicide survivors this weekend at TAPS' annual Memorial Day weekend National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Campy for Young Survivors.
According to a report by MSNBC, Kim said, "Suicide survivors are surrounded by people whose loved ones were killed in action. There's a real sense that their loved one's death was not an honorable death."
Kim Ruocco's husband, Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco, a cobra helicopter pilot, killed himself seven years ago. In 2004, he ran 75 combat missions during a five-month deployment in Iraq. John had struggled with depression earlier also, more specifically after a training accident in the 1990s, when two Cobras collided in mid-air. John lost four of his friends in that accident.
In February 2005, John temporarily lived in a hotel room near Camp Pendleton in California, awaiting redeployment to Iraq and considering mental health counseling. John gave into his depression and hung himself. His wife, Kim Ruocco, said, "He was so ashamed of being depressed and not being able to do his job." He had been considering to seek medical help, but Kim believes that "when he sat there and thought about what it meant to get help, how people would see you, how young Marines viewed him, how his peers viewed him... he thought the problem was him."
Kim has a master's degree in social work and provides counseling to suicide survivors. The memorial she has organized is expected to draw more than 2,000 participants. The memorial will feature panels and peer support groups on dealing with grief, sessions on spirituality and meditation, and events for children.
According to the Department of Defense statistics, in 2011, 301 active-duty service members died by suicide. Most of these deaths occurred in the Army. The U.S. Army Public Health Command released a study earlier this year, revealing that the number of active-duty soldiers who committed suicide increased 80 percent between 2004 and 2008.
The Department of Defense has been reportedly working to de-stigmatize mental illness through different initiatives and training programs. However, challenges remain.