'He gave me a purpose': N.J. veteran says service dog saved his life

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Suicide, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, has surged to a 30-year high.

A stunning study commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation says statistics found that police and firefighters were more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

Officer Andrew Einstein, 30, was almost one of them, but credits his service dog with saving his life.



"All of a sudden he gave me a purpose, a sense of responsibility," said Einstein, who served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He suffered a serious brain injury from a grenade attack. When he came back to his job in 2012, as a part-time police officer for Camden County, the effects of the injury left him with no sense of purpose.

"I was afraid to get help because I didn't wanna lose my job, and it got to the point where I said to myself, I'm better off dead than suffering alive," said Einstein.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide deaths in Pennsylvania rose 34.3 percent since 1999, 19.2 percent in New Jersey and 5.9 percent in Delaware.

Serge Levin, with Philadelphia's Department of Behavior Health and Disabilities, says three people die every week by suicide in the city alone.

"There are kind of threads that we see, hopelessness is one of them, isolation, feeling like a burden, stress, being really overwhelmed," said Levin.

Einstein says he had planned to overdose on a bottle of pills, but fortunately, a close friend suggested he get a service dog instead. The next day, he got a dog named Gunner that he says changed his life.

"Animals in general have this uncanny ability to know things about you that you might not even know about yourself," said Einstein. "He forced me to get better, and as the weeks and months went by, I got better and now, years later, I'm thriving."

Levin shares this message if someone is contemplating suicide, "I'm sorry you're in so much pain. There are people who understand what that pain might feel like and who can talk to you about that pain."

Action News asked Einstein what he would say to someone in that state of mind.

"If you're hurting right now, if it's bad, if you think that you're at the end, you have to fight to get better. Because if you end it, that's it, there's no coming back. But I guarantee you that the pain, that suffering, those problems won't be there forever," he says.

Einstein will be the keynote speaker at the Freedom Foundation Valley Forge Chapter Local Heroes Awards on Saturday.

There are many groups that help people having suicidal thoughts. Crisis Text Line, inspired by teenagers' attachment to texting, but open to people of all ages, provides assistance to anyone who texts "HELP" to 741-741.

If you prefer to talk on the phone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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