The statistics are grim. Seventeen veterans take their own life every day in our country. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, white men are at the highest risk of suicide followed by Hispanic veterans.
A Clay County teenager is using her voice to help raise awareness about the mental health crisis and post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
Emma Gutierrez, 16, has been singing since, “as long as I was able to speak,” she said. It is her lifelong dream to become a country music star. When the director of a short film about veteran suicide contacted her mother requesting Gutierrez sing the theme song for the film, she didn’t hesitate.
“I thought about what these veterans were going through and how I could help them through the song,” she said.
Gutierrez’s father served in the Army. While he did not suffer PTSD, she was moved by the short film’s depiction of veterans trying to return home after combat and the struggle they endured acclimating to “normal” life.
Gutierrez co-wrote the theme song called “A Place to Fall” for the short film, “We Got Your Six.”
The film tells the story of four combat veterans who return from fighting and attend therapy. The sessions are conducted virtually, compounding the problem of getting the four to share their stories with the mental health counselor conducting the group session.
The director, who also stars as one of the veterans in the film, is a veteran himself. Danny Zanelotti said he has also lost several fellow servicemen to suicide. Two of them took their own lives just weeks apart earlier this year. It’s the reason he felt so strongly about directing the short film.
It received the Founders Circle award during the Louisiana Film Prize festival last month. (Click here to watch ‘We Got Your Six’)
Gutierrez said a portion of the film upset her so much she had trouble recording the song the first time without crying.
“The part when one of the veterans talks about how she helped a little girl who was burned and she had to let the little girl back into the field. That just hurt me so bad,“ explained the 16-year-old.
Gutierrez is referring to a scene in the film when an actress playing a combat vet stationed in Afghanistan described a little girl who came to the military base crying in pain after a terrorist attack at a nearby market. The little girl was still wearing a pink dress that had been burned into her skin from the explosion. The veteran explained the turmoil she felt having to send the girl back into the war-torn country after she received medical care at the base.
That guilt and pain resonated with Gutierrez and is the reason she wrote these specific lyrics in the song: “I’m just tortured by the way you can make it through the day, but for me, it really ain’t the same and to the good Lord I’ll pray, ‘Please help me find a way.’” (Click here to listen to Gutierrez sing “A Place to Fall”)
If you know a veteran who is struggling, call the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 800-273-8255.