Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Local nonprofit advocates for veteran’s mental health this Memorial Day

Courtesy of The Hunter Whitley Initiative
This print of a butterfly, the organization’s logo, is based on a drawing the late Hunter Whitley drew prior to his death.

This Memorial Day, Americans remember those who have lost their lives in service to the country. The Hunter Whitley Butterfly Initiative is a nonprofit organization that aims to bring awareness to veterans’ mental health and provide support through community events. 

According to the initiative’s Instagram page, Hunter Whitley was a marine deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2021 to help with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. After returning home, Whitley enrolled at The University of Alabama to study computer science. In November 2022, Whitley took his life at age 23 after battling with his mental health. 

We feel strongly that community awareness around this topic is more important now than ever. The weight of mental health can be overwhelming for families,” the initiative wrote on its website. 

His family remembers him for his strong character and love of music. The logo for the initiative is a butterfly Whitley drew, which according to his sister represents freedom and rebirth. 

“I personally want The Hunter Whitley Butterfly Initiative to represent transformation, freedom and rebirth,” Hunter’s sister Jonna wrote on the initiative’s Instagram page. “Although Hunter is gone and I miss him more than anything everyday, I believe he would want us to use his story and his passing to spread awareness and hopefully help someone else who is experiencing what Hunter was.” 

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, veterans are 1.5 times more likely to pass away from suicide. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stated that 6,392 veterans died from suicide, making it the 13th-leading cause of death for veterans. 

The nonprofit offers peer support for veterans, veteran retreats, care packages and educational opportunities. Community leaders can also partner with the non-profit, donate and volunteer. 

“The role families play as advocates and primary support systems during a veteran’s transition to civilian life can never be understated,” the initiative also wrote on its page. It “drives that support even further by looking to provide the resources, education and community for our families and veterans going through these battles.”

Upcoming events include a veterans’ retreat June 14-16 and a Chasing Freedom 5K with a post-race awareness event in November.

Last year’s 5K race aimed to raise awareness towards the mental health crisis among American veterans. The event, which took place in December, marked the launch of the initiative. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling, please call 205-348-5454 to speak with the University of Alabama Police Department and ask for the on-call counselor immediately. Alternatively, call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 

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