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There’s an important public health issue behind all those fun “22 Push-up Challenge” videos you’ve been seeing everywhere lately.
Adults, kids, celebrities, the flabby and the fit, and even TODAY anchors are taking part, performing 22 push-ups, posting the video on social media with the hashtag #22PushupChallenge and daring a friend to take part next.
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The mission is to raise awareness about veteran suicide, said Jacob Schick, executive director of 22Kill, the Dallas, Texas, non-profit that started the movement locally. It’s become a true viral sensation in the last few weeks, with videos coming in from as far as Australia.
“Post-traumatic stress and mental health issues are not just a veteran or warrior issue; it’s a societal issue,” Schick told TODAY. “We want to let people know that you don’t have to suffer alone. Seek help — it’s OK to ask for help.”
Here’s what you need to know about the movement:
Why 22? And why push-ups?
Organizers were shocked to learn 22 veterans take their own lives every day. The statistic was revised to 20 recently, according to an analysis released this month by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Push-ups were chosen for their iconic status: everyone in the military does them, no matter what the branch, Schick said. It’s not a very challenging task and you can do them in whatever style you prefer — they don’t have to be Marine Corps perfect, he added.
The non-profit’s startling name, 22Kill, is also a reference to the number of veteran suicides.
“It’s an in-your-face name, but that’s the point. So is cancer and AIDS,” Schick said.
The project was not inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but both show the power of doing something simple and posting it on social media, he added.
How will the project help veterans?
It’s all about bringing attention to the issue of veteran suicide.
“A common problem remains a common problem until it becomes common knowledge,” Schick said. “The more people who know about it, the more apt there are to be positive, effective changes.”
The organization is also hoping to raise money to help warriors and their families.
What should you know about veteran suicide?
The risk of suicide for veterans is 21 percent greater than that of the general adult population, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Schick, who is a third generation U.S. Marine, knows all about the dark thoughts. The Iraq war veteran was severely wounded in 2004, with his right leg amputated below the knee, and his left leg sustaining multiple compound fractures. The recovery was tough, he said.
“I’ve been in that place and it’s a very dark place. I fought those mental demons and it’s not easy. But anything worth doing should be hard and not worth doing alone,” Schick noted.
“Physical pain reminds you that you’re alive, but mental pain tests your will to stay that way. Had it not been for my wife and my support system around me, I wouldn’t even be doing this interview.”
Where can veterans get help?
Veterans and their loved ones can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. It's a first step designed to put you in touch with people who can help.
“Mental health is something every one relates to. If you’re struggling, it’s OK to ask for help,” Schick said. “Don’t just live life — live life well. Because at the end of the day, you’re worth it.”