"The take-away for me -- and I hope for viewers -- is that each one of us can do something to help a veteran."
Preventing suicide and treating something complicated like PTSD are two different things. The responders taught us that helping delay someone’s impulse to end his life and find or learn strategies for staying alive is the first step. After that, the vet can eventually benefit from treatment for the trauma he or she has experienced. The psychological or moral injury that happens in war and the sense of hopelessness and moral confusion many veterans feel is life-threatening and nearly impossible to handle alone. Over time, veterans can regain the ability to create and find meaning in their lives. They can find useful roles in civilian life and reconstruct their identities. But they need time and reasons for living, and crisis line responders buy them that time and help them identify those reasons.
Though women generally do not see combat, do responders ever field calls from female vets? What’s the gender ratio?
Female vets do see combat, and we captured some of those conversations. Some female veterans were dealing with military sexual trauma; some have post-traumatic stress from what they’ve seen in battle or support units where they work. Some return home to children who feel abandoned or husbands who have cheated. Many female callers have developed substance abuse problems that they describe as a way of self-medicating their emotional pain. The Crisis Line doesn’t keep statistics on male versus female veterans who call, but male and female vets share many of the same kinds of adjustment problems, family disintegration, emotional detachment, lack of work [issues], and a feeling that no one truly understands what they have been through.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this film?
The most obvious challenge is that we couldn’t hear the callers. They are never taped by the hotline to protect their anonymity, and we certainly had no access to their side of the conversation. How do you convey the anguish, the suffering, and the details of the veterans’ experiences without hearing about them first-hand, or seeing their faces? For this, we had to rely on the responders’ compassionate reactions.
Another challenge is the lack of resolution, especially in situations where calls end abruptly or it’s clear that the veteran has a long road ahead, a difficult bureaucracy to navigate and other immediate crises in their lives. Any one of those things alone is daunting and you want to reach across that phone line and do something. The take-away for me -- and I hope for viewers -- is that each one of us can do something to help a veteran, and it’s no small thing to demonstrate caring to someone who feels useless, mission-less, and lost. It can be a gesture that keeps someone alive for another day, long enough to consider their reasons for living.