Eastern Carolina couple on a mission for veteran mental health awareness
Some statistics show that over 130 individuals commit suicide every day. Of those, more than 20 are veterans.
Now one Eastern Carolina couple is doing their part to help raise awareness, and break the stigma.
"It's an indescribable pain when you're left behind," says Sarrah Roberts. "You don't want to believe it. You don't want to believe someone you love was capable of doing such a thing."
It was around midnight on November 14, 2017, that Sarrah received a Facebook message from her husband Jordan.
"He said that he was sorry that he failed me, he was sorry that he failed our daughter, and that he lost to his demons."
Sarrah, who was in Jacksonville at the time, rushed to the house in Hampstead, but it was too late. Jordan had taken his own life, with their daughter in the next room.
"It's shocking. You almost become numb," Roberts recalls.
Jordan was a member of the United States Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Lejeune for 8 years.
The couple married in 2013, followed by Jordan's third deployment. When he returned, Sarrah says, "He was very aggressive. He approached situations very aggressively and he had a very short temper."
Post-combat, Jordan was diagnosed with PTSD.
Fellow Marine Michael Nicolai, who deployed with Jordan in 2011, now suffers the same effects.
"The person that I was before I left for Afghanistan, to the person I was when I came back, is completely different," Michael explains.
But Michael isn't just a former comrade of Jordan's, he's also now Sarrah's fiancé.
The two connected after Jordan's death and committed to raising awareness about mental health in veterans.
"I thought what if we came up with something that incorporated the colors for suicide prevention, suicide awareness, which is purple and teal, with support the troops specifically because they're veterans, so yellow. And he came up with the ring design," describes Sarrah.
Michael makes the rings out of the couple's garage, as part of a fundraiser, called Operation Awareness.
50% of the proceeds from ring sales will go to Mission 22-- an organization dedicated to eliminating post-traumatic stress in veterans.
"Letting them know that we're here to listen. I really think that door just needs to be blown open," says Vanessa Lapalm, the North Carolina State Leaders for Mission 22.
Mission 22 offers a variety of free programs to veterans battling mental health concerns-- encouraging those to talk about their struggles.
"Mental health is one of those hush-hush issues that nobody wants to talk about," says Lapalm.
A familiar feeling for Michael.
"Hiding behind it and not doing anything about it and not saying about it is probably one of the biggest regrets I have,"
But now, Michael and Sarrah are both talking about it.
"If this can save one life, it's all worth it. If one person finds help out of this, that's all that matters."
Sarrah and Michael's Operation Awareness fundraiser will last until the end of August. To place an order and to help spread awareness about mental health in veterans, you can visit their website: craftsbysarrahandmichael.com.