Retired two-star general speaks out about his mental illness to help others

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gregg F. Martin wants to continue his work in mental health advocacy.

 

During a distinguished career, retired Army Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin commanded thousands of soldiers fighting in Iraq, but the biggest enemy he battled was inside his head.

Since adolescence, Martin has been on a rollercoaster ride with bipolar disorder, a condition that brought him both success and misery.

Growing up in Massachusetts, Martin considered himself a go-getter. Looking back, he thinks differently.

“I was an unusually driven extrovert, so I believe I was already exhibiting signs of mild mania,” Martin said.

The West Point graduate excelled at everything he did. He holds a P.h.D. and two master’s degrees from MIT, as well as master’s degree in national security strategy from both the U.S. Army War College and U.S. Naval War College.

He commanded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwest Division and was commandant of the Army Engineer School. He served as president of the National Defense University and received the Bronze Star, the Combat Action Badge and twice the Distinguished Service Medal. There was nothing he believed he could not do.

“I felt fearless, superhuman,” he said.

From these highs, he would plummet to the lows of depression. He hid the condition well enough that it took 36 years for things to come to a head, when in 2014, his boss, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued an ultimatum: resign before the day was done or be fired.

“He also told me to get a mental health exam,” said Martin about the decision he still considers as the best for him and his family at the time.

The next two years brought unrelenting depression.

“I was pretty much non-functional and lived with morbid imagery of violent death, such as being crushed by an 18-wheeler,” Martin said.

A friend finally persuaded Martin to check into the VA hospital, where he stayed for five weeks, receiving a course of electroconvulsive therapy. ECT is a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while under anesthesia. It helped, but not enough. Lithium, a mood stabilizer made from an element present in rocks, finally balanced a mind that had gone so erratic as to force Martin to place crosses in every window to ward off evil spirits and to once keep him talking nonstop for seven hours.

Martin knows there is no cure for the disorder, but there is treatment. He realizes Lithium will be by his side until the end of his days, which he wants to spend raising awareness about the critical need to stop the stigma of mental illness.

“I want to tell the story,” he said.

He is indeed doing so, with articles that have been published by the Boston Globe and Military Times, among others. In addition Martin has a book in the works.

He knows that treatment alone is not enough, that mental health disorders require a strong network of love and support, which he received from his wife and their three children.

The dark days behind, the Cocoa Beach resident is ready for his next life chapter.

“I want to spend full time on mental health advocacy,” he said.

For more, see generalgreggmartin.com.