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Local veteran shares his story of mental health challenges, hopes to help others

Tyson Hawkins
Tyson Hawkins
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A local veteran is sharing his struggles with mental health issues and substance use.

His hope -- that others will get the help they need.

He wants others who are struggling with mental illness or substance abuse to know it's okay to ask for help.

Tyson Hawkins served two tours in Iraq. When he came home, things just weren't the same.

"You're just changed as a person, and things that used to look one way don't look that way anymore," said Hawkins. "Things are just a lot heavier."

His feelings of isolation led to heavy drinking and then drugs. He spiraled downward for a year and a half.

"I was in active use, I was in mental health crisis and I really wasn't in a position to be around my kids," Hawkins said.

His kids are 10 and 19 years old now, but when he was at his lowest point, his daughter was a toddler and his son in his early teens.

"Calling from jail and having those conversations over the phone with them was really hard for me and I don't know. I'll never know what that was like for them," Hawkins said.

They were the reason he decided to seek help.

"My kids deserve a good dad and I had to accept that I wasn't being that," Hawkins said.

He's been clean now for about five and a half years and is involved in his kids lives and watching them grow up.

"It was really people, like people and service organizations for veterans and people that are struggling with mental health. That was there for me when I needed it," Hawkins said.

Now he walks along people who are in recovery, being the person they can turn to for support and encouragement. He's a peer support specialist and recovery coach for Optum Idaho, a behavioral healthcare provider.

He says signs of depression in men can be different than for women, like irritability, anger or even working excessive hours.

"Undiagnosed mental illness is really a precursor to a lot of like really sad things that ultimately end up happening to people, whether it's hospitalization, or incarceration or suicide attempts or completions," Hawkins said.

He says the road back starts with honest conversations.

"Some of that can be prevented by having conversations with your loved one or by people just being honest with themselves and saying I'm having a hard time, and I need to talk to somebody," Hawkins said.

That's they key - a willingness to ask for help.

He says you can start by reaching out to your doctor or a crisis hotline.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or just needs someone to talk to, call the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255 or text (208) 398-4357.

You can reach the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255.

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For Optum Idaho's member help and crisis line, you can call 855-202-0973.

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