(CBSNEWS) SALT LAKE CITY — Six weeks ago Special Forces veteran Johnny Primo logged on to his Instagram account and says he was horrified to see a suicide note from a veteran who lived just a few miles away.
The note read: “Very few people know the truth … I want this in everyone’s memory.” Desperate to help, Primo tracked down his address.
“I was 45 minutes too late from him taking his own life,” said Primo. “Immediately it was a gut wrenching feeling, knowing that there was a chance that if he had my phone number he wouldn’t have killed himself.”
Resources for veterans and their loved ones
Primo called friend and fellow veteran Casey Gray and that night they launched an Instagram suicide prevention page by posting a message pleading with veterans who are having suicidal thoughts to call them, day or night.
They call it “22 Too Many” — highlighting an estimate of the number of veterans who commit suicide every day. Veterans responded immediately.
“Within the first three hours we saved one person,” said Primo. “Within the first 24 hours we saved five people, people who were on the verge of suicide.”
Casey Gray served in Iraq, lost friends in combat and was severely injured in a helicopter crash. He says his experiences help him connect and built trust with other veterans.
“Guys get to the point where they feel secluded and they isolate and they need to know that there’s somebody still there for them,” said Gray.
There are now about 180 veterans offering a lifeline on the “22 Too Many” Instagram page and they’ve already helped more 400 veterans who were contemplating suicide.
When professional help is needed, they contact a network of psychologists — which includes Dr. Carrie Elk.
“Veterans take care of veterans in the community and then they call me if they need mental health help,” explained Dr. Elk. “It’s a team effort and both are needed.”
Primo and Gray are currently developing a website and a smartphone app which will give vets more resources when they find themselves in a dark place. They intend on doing this for the long haul with the goal of saving lives.
Primo’s ultimate message to veterans: “You’re courageous enough to do what you did in the military, just pick up a phone and call. That’s all you have to do.”