COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Nearly one in five suicides nationwide is a veteran, according to a recent study conducted by The Center for Public Integrity.
In Georgia, an average of 1,000 individuals take their own lives each year, according to statewide reports.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and Sept 8 through 14 is National Suicide Prevention Week.
Crystal Hernandez, a 26-year-old widow, recalls the night her husband took his own life.
"He held a gun up to his head and then he shot himself," she recalled. "It happened right before we were getting ready to go to bed. He asked me if I wanted him to do it. I said no and ran to call 911…but it was too late."
Crystal's husband, 43-year-old Donovan Hernandez, served 21 years in the Army. He spent his last 16 years at Fort Benning, and Crystal said Donovan took his own life before her very eyes on July 12, 2014 around 10:30 p.m.
"That entire day he was acting strange," Crystal said. "He was cleaning his guns, he was crying a lot. He was diagnosed with depression and he was sad often times. I didn't know he was thinking about ending his own life."
The couple has a 3-year-old daughter named Chloe. Crystal said her life has changed dramatically since Donovan's death, and it's not easy taking care of Chloe by herself.
"She doesn't exactly know what happened to him," Crystal explained. "Chloe knows that her dad went to heave to be with God. I told her he was sick. This is the best way I thought I could explain the situation to her. She doesn't ask about Donovan, because Chloe knows where he is, but she'll say things like 'Daddy loves us. We'll see him again someday.' It's really difficult."
Crystal said Donovan was a good Christian, and he was a giving person.
"I never thought this would happen," Crystal said. "He was the nicest guy you'd ever meet. He would even take off his shirt for someone who needed it. Even if we would be broke, he would give others our last penny just to take care of them."
Crystal said she sought grief counseling as soon as she could to overcome the trauma. She now attends the Survivors of Suicide group held at the Pastoral Institute every Tuesday at 6 p.m.
"I went to go get counseling immediately after it happened," Crystal said. "It's hard to open up, but you have to seek help when you need it. I think many people, especially men, do not want to get help because they are scared they might be made fun of. Military service men and women might think they will get kicked out of the Army, and there's just negative stigma that comes with getting help for mental health. But I think people should seek help when they need it. If Donavan had gotten some help, he might have still been here today."
According to Mark Strunk with the Pastoral Institute, national reports show the military suicide rate still remains high. He said many military men and women are often hesitant to seek help.
"I've seen more military members come into my office nowadays," Strunk said. "The military is very good at taking care of its own. However, there is still reluctance on men and women alike to talk about getting help. They fear it might impact their careers adversely. But fortunately, I think more and more people are opening up and talking about it in our area."
Some early signs of suicide include:
-Change in mood
-Making preparations or finalizing businesses
-Withdrawal from friends and families
Crystal said she's thinking about moving to a different city within the next 18 months to start a new life with her daughter.
"It's not that I want to lose the memories of him, but it's really hard to go anywhere in Columbus without breaking down and crying," Crystal said. "I met him in Columbus. I want to finish my Master's in forensic psychology, and move to a different city with my daughter."
Crystal said the hardest part about losing her husband is Chloe having to celebrate some of her most important moments without her dad.
"He'll never walk our daughter down the aisle, never see her graduate high school or college," Crystal said. "I want people to really start thinking about that stuff before they decide this is it, this is the end. There is definitely someone else looking out to you, and not wanting you to be gone."