SALINAS, Calif. (KION-TV)- At KION we are committed to helping people address mental health issues and direct you to local resources.
In our first "Be Mindful" segment we sat down with a local military veteran to talk about mental health.
With Veterans Day on Saturday, we're sharing the story of Francisco Narewski, to show proof that people can live a happy and productive life when they reach out for help.
“I was self-medicating with alcohol to kind of numb these feelings and trauma," said Narewski.
Thankfully for Francisco - a social worker stepped in and threw him a lifeline. The County of Monterey's Military and Veteran's Affairs provided resources. for Narewski. He signed up for an intense outpatient program where he received the services he needed to get him out of the depths of his darkness.
After serving two tours -- one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, coming home was a big transition. A simple landscape caused traumatic triggers for him.
"From a distance, someone in trees with equipment, to me, looked like the Taliban so my brain, half of it was stuck in Afghanistan," Narewski said.
With time, his life turned around - he regained custody of his kids. He’s working on getting his master's degree in social work and was just recognized as the Monterey County Veteran of the Year.
Francisco has found ways to cope with his mental health issues, like peer support, therapy... and horse-riding.
“They get what it's like to serve overseas, you know, they know what the military culture is like, they speak your language," Narewski said. "Also, there's a great equine therapy program that really helped me out."
As the squad leader of an infantry, Francisco had felt it was impossible to show any signs of weakness. However, the culture for veterans and active service members has changed.
"Mental health in general has expanded significantly, especially for the post 911 veterans, people who joined and literally since 2001," Narewski said. "PTSD as a broad mental health category is widely accepted."
Jack Murphy who serves as the interim director of the County of Monterey Military and Veterans Affairs wants those who have served our nation to know – they're not alone – he says there are many resources like court programs and counseling available.
"So it's something that we want to break down the barriers around, that it's not something to be ashamed of, it's not something to fear, it's not something to self-medicate over," Murphy said. "And it's not something to try and take of, or try to fight alone."
Murphy says the long-lasting conflict in Iraq, resulted in repeated deployments. it makes it all the more important to get the message out to as many veterans who are experiencing any mental health issues to seek help. for anyone struggling with PTSD, Francisco wants veterans to know there is hope.
"For my brother and sisters struggling with PTSD, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Please call the veterans crisis line 9-8-8 then press 1 and reach out for help."
The crisis line is available 24/7 and Murphy wants to emphasize people will not be questioned about the characterization of their discharge.