COD Student Veteran Talked About Mental Health Journey

“During suicide prevention month, Alex Leal discussed his mental health struggles at a COD event centered around the topic”


Photo by Elizabeth Barbosa

Noah McBrien, Staff Writer

This month was Suicide Prevention Month. During this time, COD hosted Burpees, BBQ, and Mental Health, an event centered around promoting the mental health and physical well-being of all students, including student veterans.

Student veterans at COD have a unique experience. One of them is Alex Leal, who is graduating this semester with an Associate in the Arts and wants to major in business.

On why he chose his degree, he said he wanted to try college in a broad way. His background is in administration – lasting four and a half years – which is why he is considering business with the hopes of eventually opening up his own. 

Regarding why Leal joined the marines specifically, “My whole life I wanted to be a warrior.” Commenting on the influence this experience had on him, “It made me more aggressive. Your ego is trained to be macho,” so “you want to be the tough guy; you always want to prove yourself to be better than the rest.” He said it made him feel on edge more often.

Considering these influences, Leal said, “I know the purpose that it serves,” but “since I’m out, I understand that there’s a time and place.”

“I thought I was going to be a marine for 20 years,” Leal noted. “I didn’t end up liking it as much as I thought I was going to.” While in the military, he said he was diagnosed with depression and continues to struggle with it. 

“Every day is a battle,” he said, so “we might not see life as serious as a war, but we’re all going to struggle with our own battles.” He went on to say, “Somebody I know committed suicide, and they were not even in combat.”

The person Leal knew was “in a leadership position; somebody you would want to be like.” Once he found out, it made him feel weak and demoralized, because he looked to the person for strength. He thought that, if such a person could commit suicide, then we all are susceptible. 

Reflecting on this experience, Leal said, “We all need something to live for,” which for him, personally, is “a moral obligation to be there for other people.”

“Suicide is a touchy subject, but we should be talking about it more,” Leal said, “Because you never know; an attitude can be deceiving. You never know what somebody’s going through.”

“When you ask somebody, ‘Hey, how are you doing today?’ Instead of doing it and going through the motions – because it’s what people do – you should do it with genuine care for the other person,” Leal said. When saying this, as well as whenever he considers the idea, he has the person who passed in mind.

“I feel like in the veteran community, they are aware of how bad veterans have it once they get out,” he noted. But he said there isn’t enough awareness of what veterans deal with among civilians.

On the therapy he has gotten, Leal said he didn’t have the resources to do so before joining the military. Only then was he able to see a therapist. A moment he found especially energizing was when he asked his therapist if it was bad to spend the time he did in the gym to deal with his mental health struggles, to which the therapist said it was fine and encouraged him to continue to do so if he found it beneficial. 

Leal said he attended Burpees, BBQ, and Mental health to “show support for veterans.” He said he believes in the therapeutic quality of everything at the event, both the food and the fitness. 

The purpose of the event was to “get the wheels turning” by getting students to consider the benefits of fitness, according to Leal. For him, “veteran or not,” to consider the benefits means “this event was a success.”