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'God put a purpose in me': Robins Air Force vet advocates for suicide prevention after nearly taking his own life

In July, Bradley Clay founded Beard of Hope Inc., a nonprofit working to end the stigma of mental illnesses.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A disabled Air Force veteran says a year ago, he nearly took his own life, and it's because of his trauma and resilience he created a nonprofit to advocate for mental health treatment and suicide prevention.

For this disabled vet, September is not just another month.

"I put this on here because it was the day I attempted suicide; and then underneath it says '22,' crossed out, '21,' on this day;' because the number '22' represents 22 veterans a day who commit suicide, which actually, according to last year's data, is up to 34-plus, almost double. '21' on this day, because I wasn't successful," Clay explained, as he showed off his special tattoos.

Bradley Clay calls himself a suicide survivor.

"One year ago this month, I attempted suicide and I was in the hospital for four weeks," Clay said.

Afterwards, Clay says, he suffered a stroke and had a temporary pacemaker installed.

After weeks of therapy, he says he started to see he wasn't alone -- that many others also suffered from complex PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

"I've had trauma happen to me as a young child, into my adulthood, where I faced things -- my ex-wife leaving me because she wanted to be with another man, and being raped, and the time overseas being deployed. I didn't see direct combat, but we were mortared a lot; and I volunteered to take soldiers off the helicopters to the hospital. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it is a lot to process. Not a whole lot of people speak out about that kind of stuff, and it needs to be. I believe God put a purpose in me to use my story to help people who are going through the same thing," Clay said.

So, in July, Clay founded Beard of Hope Inc., a nonprofit working to end the stigma of mental illnesses.

"Someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts isn't always the depressed person who is moping around and stuff like that. Sometimes, it's the person who is happy," Clay said.

He also aims to help others who cannot afford mental health services.

"Even with insurance, therapy and everything, you need for your mental health can be expensive. I myself went through a 3-week outpatient program at Piedmont in Macon. If I were to pay for that through my regular insurance, it still would've cost me $3,500, but, luckily, I was covered by the VA and it was covered 100%, but there are still people that have to pay that $3,500 or more, depending on what their copays are. So, my mission is to make those sort of things not a barrier for people. You don't need the stress of money when you're already stressing about other things," Clay said.

Now, nearly a year later, Clay reflects on where he was and where he is now.

"I'm proud of it. I know where I was before and I've come a long way," Clay said.

As time goes on, he hopes by sharing his story of September 26, someone hears "It's OK to not be OK," and you can ask for help.

"I want to help everybody. Everybody deserves help. I am not alone. I am not the only person going through this stuff. The more people realize there are people who go through this every day, like people who you may see are normal, like football players and Olympic athletes, they go through it, too. It's not just the people who are lonely, don't have any friends. Everybody goes through it, and the more people realize that the more they will seek out help," Clay said.

For more information about Beard of Hope Inc., head over to his Facebook page: "Beard of Hope."

Clay is also an employee of Robins Air Force Base.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

This Thursday, AmeriGroup is hosting a panel for their "Sound the Alarm" Suicide Prevention and Awareness event, where Houston County Family Connection will be a partner.  

It's happening at the Curtis Event Center on Watson Boulevard from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

This past summer, a new national initiative rolled out to help people suffering a mental health crisis.


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