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JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- Standing in the basement of a church, Mary Southerland's voice cracked as she spoke about her own struggles with depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
Southerland is in the middle of a journey -- kayaking more than 600 miles down the Ohio River in an effort to shine a light on suicide among veterans and contractors. She's stopped in Louisville Sunday on her journey down the river between Pittsburgh, PA and Cairo, IL.
"I'm going to have to read a lot of this, so if I start to sound scripted it's because a lot of this is hard to say," Southerland tells a crowd gathered at St. Luke's United Church of Christ in Jeffersonville early Sunday morning.
Speaking to strangers in a church basement far from Utah home, Southerland has already come along way from a time when she couldn't leave her own basement.
"And I've learned to have a little hope during the dark times and there are many dark times. But as I've gotten better, I've heard the stories and mourned the losses of those who have not... I don't know why this doesn't ever get easier," she said, fighting back tears.
Southerland talked about fellow contractors - friends who've killed themselves, her growing frustrations with government red tape and private insurance companies she says are responsible for worker compensation payments for contractors injured while abroad.
She also discussed how she's using the Ohio River as more than a means for travel, but as a path to healing.
There was a time, she says, when she considered committing suicide - even asking her attorney if her family would receive health benefits if she killed herself.
"When you think about ending your life because your head is so wrong, it just scares you to death," she said.
Mary says she has to remind herself about why life is important. Her speeches encourage others to lobby the government for more mental health services for contractors and soldiers. She doesn't get specific about what led to her own struggles.
"Not right now. Right now it's still kind of raw. It's still extremely very raw," she said.
Traveling with friends, she credits her faith and her service dog Henry with helping her get through those tough times.
"I know that I'm not there yet but with Henry - that gave me hope. Henry saved my life," Southerland said.
She'll be speaking at Corydon Christian Church on Wednesday at 6 p.m.