Suicide has become an epidemic in the United States and has been steadily on the rise in recent years. According to the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death among Americans age 10-34. In 2017, there have been more than 47,000 documented cases of suicide, although the number is believed to be much higher due to under reporting caused by the stigma in some communities and the privacy laws in some states.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Grant Bourne, Marine Veteran and avid motorcyclist. “As a nation, we can do better.”
And that is the message that Grant hopes to spread to anyone who will listen. November 5th will always be a special date for him as it marks the anniversary of 12 years of sobriety and one year since he completed his Ride Out of the Darkness campaign, traveling more than 100,000 miles on his motorcycle through the lower 48 states to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention.
“Every time I would stop for gas, sleep, or food, I tried to talk to at least one person about how suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and that most people can agree that it’s close to 100% preventable,” he said.
Suicide is an issue that is very important to Grant since he had come so close to taking his own life. It was July 7, 2009 when many of life’s struggles- work, relationships, a potential move, an upcoming wedding- were becoming too much for him. Then there was also the news that a fellow Marine, who he had helped to join the Corps, had taken his own life. Overcome with guilt and grief and still struggling with one and a half years of sobriety, he was ready to pull the trigger when he remembered the screams of the mother and widow at his Marine buddy’s funeral. It was at that moment that he realized that maybe his life was not great, but better than it could be.
Years later in 2017, upon hearing the news of the suicides of Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, and actor Robin Williams- people who had inspired millions to do better, to laugh, to love- he decided it was the last straw, and on December 15, 2017, newly retired from the Marines, he created The Ride Out of the Darkness Campaign on Facebook, made up some flyers and stickers, found some sponsors, and hit the road on January 1, 2018 atop his 2018 Road King.
“The trip was a healing thing for me,” he said, “knowing I was doing what I could to make the world better and clearing my head.”
Although suicide is a growing issue among military servicemen, with close to 27 veterans taking their lives every day, it is something that affects people from all walks of life. Today, Grant, who is attending motorcycle mechanics school at The Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) in Phoenix, Arizona, is surrounded by young people, who make up one of the demographics most at risk, especially with the growing problems caused by social media. Yet, he surprised by the lack of conversation surrounding trauma, mental health, and suicide.
“If one of our teeth hurts we’ll moan and complain about it until it gets fixed… but if our brain is hurting or we don’t know what’s going on with our mind, we can talk about it, but there’s a chance of being made fun of or somebody telling us just to suck it up and figure it out. We need to get rid of that stigma.”
He wants people to know that there are places they can go and people they can talk to. He also wants them to know that it’s normal to have mixed up feelings.
“I want people to know it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to struggle. We all fall- we’re human, we’re not perfect. It’s ok not to know what’s happening in your mind.”
He also wants to educate others on how they can help. He wants them to know that victims of trauma, whether a car accident or rape, don’t need to be treated differently or coddled; they just need someone to say that they are there to listen. In fact, statistics show that directly asking someone if they’ve ever thought about suicide doesn’t “put the idea in their head”. Instead, it often brings that person relief that the conversation was started. The reality is that any trauma can turn into a mental health challenge down the road but because of its stigma, it isn’t taken seriously enough and doesn’t get addressed in the timeline that it should.
“What we have to do is raise awareness that there is help out there. I have little stickers that I put in public places that simply say things like, “You are loved and you have a purpose, so please don’t give up.”
Grant also wants people to recognize when someone is showing them love, whether it’s by relating their own experiences and struggles, giving them the facts, or just saying, “Hey, Stupid, you shouldn’t be drinking and driving.”
“When somebody thinks, ‘No, I’m not [loved]’, I give them examples. A lot of people get stuck on the meaning of “love” being between a man and a woman, but love has a million and one different forms.”
When asked what has helped him cope with life’s struggles, his answer is simple: motorcycles.
“Fighting depression with a depressant [like] alcohol, which is the second most overused drug in the world after food, doesn’t help, but riding a motorcycle is a scientifically proven antidepressant. Motorcycles have saved my life and have put the most amazing people in my life. In the end, I tell people nationwide: find your version of motorcycle [riding]. Cooking and shooting guns is my therapy. [You can] find your version of therapy. [It] doesn’t have to be sitting in front of a shrink and answering questions.”
When asked about his future plans for Ride Out of the Darkness, he’s not quite sure. Right now, he’s taking a break from the campaign and social media until December to focus on school and family. However, he is in the process of transitioning to a new name that will take the focus off of him and put it where it belongs- on suicide and suicide prevention. He also plans to set up a 501(c)3 with the goal of raising money through selling shirts, gaining sponsors, and possibly doing some charity events.
If you would like to support Grant and his campaign, you can follow him on his Facebook page or his website. If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the free hotline at 1-800-273-825 or text “Talk” to 741741.