JAN. 8 ANNIVERSARY: Shooting survivor Ron Barber doesn’t want mental illness to be stigma

JAN. 8 ANNIVERSARY: Shooting survivor Ron Barber doesn’t want mental illness to be stigma

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Survivors of the Jan. 8 shooting still carry scars, both physical and emotional.

While their psychological wounds can’t be seen, the pain is still there just as it was 10 years ago.

“Sometimes it seems like only yesterday to be honest with you,” said Ron Barber, who was Gabby Giffords right-hand man. “The impact emotionally on all of us was so incredible and so deep.”

Barber was standing at Giffords’ side when the gunman opened fire.

“He lunged towards Gabby and shot her in the head and she went down,” Barber said. “Then he turned the gun on me and I could hear the pop pop pop sound of the bullets and I went down.”

Lying in a pool of blood, Ron realized he had been shot twice.

“As it turned out, it had a strange trajectory and it went down the side of my cheek and came out the back,” Barber said. “I was told it missed my carotid artery by about a millimeter so that would have been it right there.”

It was a gunshot wound to the leg that almost killed Barber.

A woman who had just finished shopping rushed to his side.

Her name is Anna, but Barber considers her an angel.

“If it hadn’t been for her, I think I would have died,” he said. “She was the one who put her hands on my thigh where the vein had been severed. I was just gushing blood as you can imagine, so she with her bare hands was doing her best to suppress the bleeding.”

Barber was loaded into a medical helicopter and flown to UMC, where he spent the next several months recovering.

His family urged him to seek professional help to deal with the horrific sequence of events, including the loss of close friends and colleagues.

Barber was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“A mental health problem is not a stigma,” he said. “It’s just like any other illness. It may affect you differently but we don’t talk about mental illness in the same way we talk about diabetes or heart problems and we really should.”

Months after the shooting, Ron went back to work and vowed to become a voice for those living with PTSD.

“My staff wasn’t too keen because people will cast aspersions about you,” Barber said. “Can you really do the job when you have PTSD? I wanted people to know that it’s not a life sentence. In other words, you’re going to be doing OK if you get treatment.”

Elected to Congress to 2014, Ron became a voice for veterans battling their own demons.

“There’s a big stigma attached to any kind of mental health issue particulary if you’re in the military,” he said.

Championing the cause to get help because he understands their struggles.

“And it’s because they don’t get treatment,” Barber said. “They come home. They remember the war they just fought in and their families might be distant from them, they can’t relate to them. I know from my own symptoms that it was hard to be around me.”

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