Retired USAF veteran writes suicide prevention book

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Melissa LeGates, retired USAF veteran holds her book on defeating suicide

Even before she deployed to Iraq, Melissa LeGates suffered from depression. The daughter of an alcoholic father, LeGates explained that she was diagnosed with “depression of family origin.”

“My father actually did escape alcoholism at the end of his life, which was a blessing to see. So, I had been going to therapists because I always knew you had to heal yourself in a certain manner of speaking. And I knew that there are people who have better ways of doing things,” LeGates said. “And I wanted to know what those ways were, but unfortunately, they don’t give all the clues and all the good tips. It is almost like you have to jump around to multiple therapists.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, over 6,300 veterans died by suicide in 2021, an increase almost 12 percent from the year before. Suicide has been listed as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause for people aged 15 to 24, according to LeGates.

“I knew it was time to get help when I returned from deployment to Iraq and started asking myself, ‘could I hit that telephone pole hard enough to never wake up again,” LeGates said. “I just wanted to vanish and experience no more pain. I also know that the holiday season is especially hard for those that struggle with mental anguish.”

In an effort to help others, LeGates has written an autobiographical book that talks about what she calls the “tripod” of mental wellness. Her book “Defeating Suicide:  How One Iraqi Vet Healed Herself Through Love, Therapy and the Bible,” focuses on using the mind, body and soul approach to mental health.

“My premise is that God endowed in all of us a method to heal ourselves and you just need to lock into that to do it. I don’t agree with modern psychology that you’ll be depressed for life. And that you would always be manic depressive, bipolar or clinically depressed,” LeGates said. “I totally disagree with that. And I believe God is a healer. And beyond God, I believe that we are mind, body and soul. And what’s happening in the modern world is we’re cutting out the soul portion. And if we don’t treat our spirit, I believe we’re actually handicapping ourselves in our recovery although handicap is probably not a good word. But if you’re a Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, any religion at all, then you need to stoke up whatever your spirituality is. I liken it in my book to a tripod. If we’re mind, body and soul and you cut out the soul part, the tripod can’t stand.”

LeGates during one of her two deployments to Iraq

LeGates believes this is the reason that mental health is so prevalent today because there is a lack of connection with others. She talks about connections in her book and how they helped her move into a better mental state. LeGates also talks about how difficult it is to find the right therapist as many people feel they can walk into a psychiatrist’s office and say, “cure me.” Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment for mental anguish and illness.

“I wanted to have a key on the title of my book because I believe we are all the key to a master lock that will unlock healing,” LeGates said. “When Jesus died to get the keys from Satan, that’s why I wanted the key on the book. I don’t go into it too much, but that’s why I like the key imagery and a puzzle imagery because it is a big, gigantic puzzle. It took me what felt like a lifetime. It took me 20 to 30 years to have enough information, have enough to say to put it in book form.

LeGates was born and raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She was stationed at Dover Air Force Base, retiring in 2009. She decided to attend Regent University in Virginia, joking that she hoped to meet a nice Christian boy when actually she met a nice Christian boy who was from Delaware. Although she and her husband loved living in Virginia, the cost of living was much higher than Delaware, so they returned to be closer to her husband’s family in Millsboro, settling in Milford. LeGates explained that she loved Milford and the small, hometown feel it has.

“I had been dealing with my depression and anxiety, but I finally realized there’s, and I know this is controversial, but there isn’t a pill that is going to stave off depression. You can take depression pills and it can be a part of your therapy. But it’s not a one-time thing,” LeGates said. “There’s not anyone who can heal yourself better than you can heal yourself. I believe that with a relationship with Christ, you can heal. I do go into if you’re not in a relationship currently, you need to look into your spirituality. That’s the big, big thing.”

LeGates continued, stating that she does not think “plopping yourself or a child in front of a therapist and saying, ‘heal me’ is the answer,’ instead believing that although therapy is beneficial, it is not the only tool that can help those suffering from anxiety, depression or suicidal ideology. In fact, she believes that some medications used to treat depression and anxiety may exacerbate suicidal thoughts.

“I’m a proponent of more homeopathic remedies. The first therapist I ever went to and said ‘hey, I’ve got a problem and I’m stressing, and I’ve got anxiety’ what they diagnosed me with was depression for family of origin and general anxiety disorder which is just what they diagnose a million other people. That’s all and I was stressing, and I couldn’t sit in meetings without having to get up. I couldn’t focus in going on work which was a problem,” LeGates said. “And so, the person said, ‘I’m going to shut you up. I can give you this prescription, and you’ll never have to worry about it again.’ Well, that didn’t happen. But he did do one other thing. He taught me meditation and slowing down your breath. So that was beneficial when you remember, ‘Hey, I gotta breathe.’ But I always think what a disservice they did to me to just say, hey, take this pill and you’ll be set for life. It doesn’t work that way.”

Another way that LeGates is managing her depression is through exercise.

“I am finding that exercise is empowering. But it’s scary, but it’s empowering. Knowing that hey, I can go to the gym. And I can get the same effect that I would if I were taking a pill. because the endorphins going through your system and everything flowing out that depression,” LeGates said. “It is also empowering that I can pick up the Bible and I can read the Bible and renew my mind. And, and I have a chapter, a small chapter, but I do have a chapter on practical advice. Like listen to Christian radio. I also list a bunch of Christian authors that can help.”

LeGates book can be purchased at Barnes and Noble. An informational video about the book can be found on YouTube.

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