EVENING SHADE, Ark. (KAIT) - It’s a silent epidemic that’s proving deadly. Many people are too scared, frustrated or terrified to reach out for help.
The crisis gripping Region 8 and many other places in the nation has to do with men’s mental health and an inability to talk or share what is going on inside them.
Our in-depth look at the battle begins on a farm tucked away in Evening Shade, Arkansas.
Cattle dot the peaceful landscape bordered on one side by the Strawberry River.
There’s a peaceful calm here, a natural rhythm of nature in the hills of Sharp County.
John Kunkel likes it that way. A sharp contrast to the struggles he once knew.
“I had moved to Little Rock,” Kunkel said.
He left the family farm for Arkansas’ capital city.
“Just a lot of pressure growing up in a small town,” Kunkel said. “I had a lot of stuff bottled up and very lonely.”
A certain sadness he said you could see in pictures like the one taken on his high school graduation night.
“I had decided I was going to end my life and so I took an overdose,” Kunkel said.
Fortunate for him however…
“Luckily a friend of mine who was in med school called me and I was slurring my words and he came and took me to the emergency room,” Kunkel said. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today.”
John is one of the lucky ones.
“He killed himself on April 30th of this year,” Myranda Hobbs said. A sadness sweeps over her. Her eyes look away as if to remember and then quickly forget the day simultaneously.
Myranda Hobbs struggles to get that image out of her mind.
“The week that this happened, we were working on trying to get him into a facility to try to help him,” Hobbs said.
Her husband shot himself.
“We were married for almost 12 years,” Hobbs said. “Together for 15 years.”
Her husband, James Michael Hobbs, worked as a police officer for 11 years.
“He watched a guy commit suicide with a .22 and so you know,” Hobbs said. “It’s things like that that build up.”
And get trapped inside.
“That was his biggest thing was that ‘if I go talk to somebody,’” Hobbs said. “’I’m a weak person.’”
“And we know—especially in the South, the man is supposed to be the head of the household,” Lindsey Bowers, community educator for White River Medical Center said. “They may not think that it’s okay to ask for help which is part of the stigma.”
Lisa Bowers often speaks on suicide prevention in role for White River Medical Center.
“By the time I was a junior in high school, I had lost two classmates to the silent epidemic of youth suicide,” Bowers said.
She, along with John and Myranda, have joined forces to try to bring attention to this crisis.
“Back in August, we had met with the Governor’s wife (Susan Hutchinson). We were talking and I told them that it would be great to have a centralized website that lists everything by county and by city,” Hobbs said.
Myranda says access to mental health care should be easier.
And the group wants to see mental illness be treated just like any other medical condition.
Right now, many insurance plans to not pay for mental health counseling like they do for an illness like heart disease or cancer.
The struggle is real, especially in farm country which makes up most of Arkansas.
Many farmers are facing bankruptcies and foreclosures because of trade tariffs.
Some have struggled to get their crops in.
The rain has caused problems for some farmers to get their crops out and all of this leads to a gut-wrenching statistic.
We are ranked 9th in the nation for suicide.
“So a lot of the things that you are describing are symptoms of depression. Isolation. Withdrawn behavior. That’s a lot of stressors,” Bowers said.
“We’ve got to do something to make it better… especially to get people to talk when they need to,” Hobbs said.
“I’m not ashamed at all,” Kunkel said.
Recognizing his depression changed John’s life.
Adopted at an early age, it wasn’t until adulthood that he found depression had a biological tie in his birth family.
Following his suicide attempt, he went on to become a senior buyer for Walmart, travelling the world, but eventually coming back to his roots on the farm.
“Do you still struggle with depression today,” I asked John.
“I do and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m on medication,” he said.
John believes the first step to changing the way we look at mental illness is by realizing it’s a challenge—many times a life-long one, and taking medication can change everything.
“What seems dark and lonely now, once everything is stabilized… you will see everything in a different light,” Kunkel said.
“We’ve got to do something to make it better,” Hobbs said.
It won’t bring her husband back. But, Myranda says she learned from his death.
“Do something, if you feel the need,” she said. “Don’t just wait until they’re ready… they will never be ready.”
“If you are starting to feel even a hint that something is not right, find help,” Bowers said. “Go to the ER. Call 911.”
“If I can help save someone’s life, everything that I am putting out there is well worth it,” Kunkel said.