"I couldn't help him and that was hard for me, but I could love him unconditionally and that's what I did."
WESTFIELD — Last month, Jeremy Barnes, a Westfield veteran, lost his battle with mental illness, succumbing to the strain of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
"Jeremy lived his life to make everyone else happy," his wife, Katie Barnes said.
She remembers Jeremy, who served in the United States Army, as a man who lived to serve others.
"That was how he found happiness he loved to make everyone around him happy," Katie said.
Jeremy was stationed with the 1st Calvary Division in Fort Hood, Texas, and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-05.
After four years in the Army, Jeremy returned home to Indiana where he continued to take care of his Army brothers and sisters.
"He had all his little Army brothers that he worked on to help them go to the VA to do all their benefits, to do all those things," Katie said. "There were hundreds of people that showed up at his funeral from work that helped in their careers, in their jobs. He lived his life to make others happy and to help people."
But at home, behind closed doors, he struggled. Jeremy lost his battle with PTSD and depression on May 4.
"He's always struggled with PTSD," Katie said. "It was more than that. He was also just depressed. You know, nobody really realized it."
On average, 22 veterans die by suicide every day. The number served as a reminder that was tattooed on Jeremy's arm and on a bracelet he always wore.
"This is a real thing. It's not just something that may happen. It happens to people every single day," Katie said.
She stressed that as a society, we need to destigmatize talking about our mental health.
“If I were to ask you, assuming you're not dealing with health issues, how you're doing, you're always going to tell me that you're fine," Katie said. "It's what we do as a society because nobody wants to hear you complain, so, it's just, we have normalized saying, 'I’m fine.'"
And if you want to know how someone truly is, she said you need to ask their loved ones.
"Had anybody asked me how he was doing on any given day, I could have told you that he wasn't fine because, behind closed doors, I could tell you and see those struggles," Katie said.
Even though she knew her husband was struggling all she could do was love him, unconditionally.
"You can't help them. They have to want to help themselves," she said. As I told Jeremy, I couldn't relate, but I could empathize, and so for me, it was just always being there and always being supportive, trying to encourage him to get help."
Katie hopes telling her husband's story will help change one person's life.
"Is talking about this hard? It's terrible. But if anything can come of this, I want to normalize talking about it and I want to normalize people getting help because that's what he would have wanted," she said. "He would have wanted this to help, even if it's a single person."
In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to Mission 22, a nonprofit close to Jeremy’s heart.
Mission 22 provides treatment programs for post-traumatic stress and suicide awareness and prevention.
It’s estimated that approximately 500,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Others may have it and not recognize the symptoms.