By Art Holliday
BELLEVILLE, Ill. (KSDK) - A Belleville Army veteran survived numerous close calls in Iraq then fought an even tougher battle when he returned home: post traumatic stress disorder. Aaron Humphrey served in the U.S. Army for six years. After surviving several explosions without injury during his year in Iraq, he wasn't prepared for the psychological scars once he left the military.
"It was pretty intense," Humphrey said. "We were high security escort. We were on the roads every day. We were hit by quite a bit of small arms fire and improvised explosive devices. I was fortunate enough that I wasn't physically injured even though I was very close to several explosions and it's taken a toll on me on a daily basis since I've gotten back. When I got out of the military I realized there was something wrong but I couldn't put my finger on it. I had a point in time when I actually tried to commit suicide."
"When Mental Illness Hits Home" is a 2-day conference at The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois. The conference brings together mental health organizations, therapists, and families dealing with mental illness. The conference title has special meaning for mental health professional Debbie Humphrey.
"Now it's beyond professionalism," said Debbie Humphrey. "Now it's personal." Personal because she's helping her son Aaron cope with post traumatic stress disorder. "I had to really learn how to help him navigate a system that I wasn't familiar with."
Aaron says even though his mother is employed by the St. Clair County Mental Health Board, she can only comprehend so much of what he experienced on the battlefield.
"Even though she understands," said Aaron, "there's still a lot that's not understood unless you've actually been there. When I got out of the military I realized there was something wrong but I couldn't put my finger on it. I had a point in time when I actually tried to commit suicide."
Debbie Humphrey watched her son's life spiral out of control. "It resulted in a divorce, he lost his home, he lost his employment, and as he said, he got involved with substance abuse to self medicate."
With support from his mom, Aaron is successfully treating his PTSD with medication and therapy, and is once again employed.
He says the struggle has been worth it.
"I think my message would be is that there is hope," said Aaron. "And there is a struggle ahead, but finding the proper channels of getting the help is what's important."
When Mental Illness Hits Home continues Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville. Walk-ins are welcome to attend, although organizers would appreciate a phone call to 618-394-6440. For more information visit http://snows.org/events/when-mental-illness-hits-home.