Gladden grew up in Lubbock, TX, into a large and loving family. He had a larger-than-life presence and an easygoing smile that he was quick to share. His mother, Margaret Rollins, recounts, “He would just walk in a room. He had a big old smile. He liked to joke around. He talked real loud. He was just lovable. He was just a great kid.” Gladden loved exercising and having fun with his friends and family.
Joining the military was not something Gladden planned on doing with his life. However, a few family friends who were in the Navy convinced him to serve. After graduating from high school in 2011, Gladden joined the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman.
During his service, there seemed to be no visible signs that anything was wrong. Gladden told his family he loved his job and the unique experiences the Navy afforded him. Then, in 2014, Gladden was discharged after serving for three years. When he returned to civilian life, Gladden was not acting like his usual jovial self. “He wouldn’t work out anymore. He was just letting himself go,” said Rollins. “He was always by himself, in the dark. He wouldn’t talk to anybody. He just kept to himself in the room.” His family pleaded with him to seek care for his mental health struggles but Gladden did not always take his prescription. One day, he shared his desire to take his own life with his mother. Rollins felt powerless as her son suffered alone.
On March 24, 2017, Rollins received the phone call she dreaded: Gladden had committed suicide at age 26. He left behind his two young children, William and Avery. Gladden and many Veterans like him are part of a harrowing statistic that finds an average of 20 Veterans commit suicide each day. Rollins laments being unable to provide the specialized care Gladden needed, saying, “When you don’t got the tools to talk to somebody that’s in that mentality, it’s hard. And I think I didn’t do quite enough for him not to do that, so it kinda hurts.”
Gladden would have turned 30 this year, and while his family will always miss his laughter and smile, his birthday was a day of quiet remembrance rather than sadness. “It was kind of peaceful. I didn’t shed a tear,” said Rollins. “He was there with me, guiding me through that day, telling me it’s OK. He’s in a good place.”
Rollins speaks on behalf of her son, Veterans, and the people who love them, urging anyone struggling with PTSD and mental health issues to “Get some help. Go talk to someone. If you need someone to hold your hand…go get help. There is help out there.”