Military’s mental illness stigma pushes Navy captain to edge
PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. — U.S. Navy Capt. Todd Kruder and his wife, Sharon, had a joyous 2012: The couple marked 25 years of marriage, their oldest son was married, and their second son was commissioned into the Marine Corps. But Kruder almost didn’t get the chance to celebrate that year with his family because on three different occasions, he attempted suicide.
“First time I tried, I thought about suicide, I chickened,” Kruder said. “The second time, my son interrupted. So I had to come up with a different way.”
The different way, he explained, was to over-exercise himself to death.
“It was the perfect solution to the problem I had, which was I didn’t want the stigma of suicide,” said Kruder, of Prince Frederick, Md.
Kruder’s over-exercising, together with his 17 hour-a-day job as an executive assistant to a three-star admiral, were taking its toll. It was all part of what Kruder, 47, called his “master plan.”
But what he didn’t expect was his family and friends becoming concerned about his 60-pound weight loss as well as his personality changes.
Then, one morning in 2011, Kruder hit rock bottom.
“We were probably days, hours maybe, away from breaking the marriage up,” Kruder said.
Despite the near constant fighting, Todd and Sharon Kruder had kept their wedding rings firmly on their fingers.
In their 24 years of marriage, they rarely, if ever, took them off until that day.
“He took his wedding band off, and threw his wedding band,” Sharon Kruder said.
He threw it right at her.
“There’s too much memory behind them, and for him to take off something that I hold that dear to me, it hurt,” she said.
“When you see a woman that you’ve married for 25 years, love very much; when you see her crumpled in a ball against the wall, crying because of what you did, because of who you were … that was enough,” Todd Kruder said. “That was enough for me to know that I had to fess up to myself; I had to fess up to others.”
What he had to “fess up” to was his severe depression, the result of what Todd Kruder said were several events throughout his life, including being deployed to Iraq for nine months from 2007 to 2008.
Mental illness continues to be an issue in today’s military: The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 22 veterans commit suicide every day, about 8,000 annually.
U.S. Navy Capt. Anthony Arita, director of the Defense Department’s Deployment Health Clinical Center in Northern Virginia, said many service members don’t seek help for mental illness because of perceived stigma.
Service members might believe “that somehow it would be adverse to your career,” Arita said. “That somehow you would not be viewed favorably in the light of your leadership, your chain of command.”
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America surveyed members last year and found 40 percent declined to seek help for their mental illness because of that perceived harm to their careers.
In order to encourage soldiers to seek help for mental illness, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury started a multimedia campaign called Real Warriors, to assist service members and veterans.
Todd Kruder said it was the stigma of mental illness in the military which pushed him to the edge.
“I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t want my career affected. I didn’t want my name to be associated with depression, a weakness that I felt was there,” he said. “And I was willing to die for that.”
Todd Kruder is better now thanks to medication and therapy, but the battle goes on for fellow veterans.
So he is waging a new fight, to eliminate the shame of mental illness.
“It almost killed me, that stigma, and what I’d encourage folks to do is put it away,” he said.
Todd Kruder said he is now writing a series of books that can be found on Amazon that document his battle with depression.
“It’s about putting a face out there that says severe depression affects anyone, everyone, and it doesn’t matter,” he said.
His wife said they still have work to do, but for now life is a lot smoother.
“I think it takes a huge amount of courage (for Todd) to be able to come out to tell people ‘This is what I’m dealing with. This is what I’m going through,’” Sharon Kruder said.
“Yeah (we) had some bad times with everything that went on, but the final outcome is happy,” she added. “I have more good than bad in my life. I really do.”