Veterans all too often have been through tough times. Nowhere is this more evident than with the service members and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The RAND Corporation recently conducted various research projects to study the mental health and cognitive needs of returning service members and veterans. According to the RAND research, among other findings, approximately 31% of all service members suffer from depression, PTSD, or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Those numbers, if accurate, mean that nearly 300,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could be suffering from PTSD or depression.
The RAND studies also listed five barriers as to why many service members may not be reporting their difficulties:
- Medications that might help have too many side effects.
- Admission could hurt the soldier’s military career.
- Reporting PTSD or depression could result in denied security clearance.
- Family and friends are perceived to be of greater help than a mental health professional.
- Loss of confidence in coworkers.
Help is Available
When someone is in crisis and feeling despondent, reaching out for help is a stronger step to take than doing nothing, which can lead to a worsening state, a Military Crisis Line responder recently told American Forces Press Service.
Tricia Lucchesi of Canandaigua, N.Y., said she encourages service members, families, veterans and friends to feel comfortable calling the military crisis line. She said people contact the crisis line to discuss a variety of issues, from feeling suicidal, depressed or anxious to feeling pressure from finances or relationships, among a wealth of other concerns.
Callers receive a follow-up call from a suicide prevention coordinator the next day, or another professional who’s linked into the crisis line team. A “compassionate callback,” follows about 10 days afterwardto make sure the callers connected with the services they needed, and so responders can make sure callers are feeling better.
The Military Crisis Line, also known as the Veterans Crisis Line, is a joint effort between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. It provides worldwide services for active duty troops, veterans, family members and concerned friends of those in crisis.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers some free screening tests that you can take to determine your level of need in a given area. These screenings are available:
- Depression screening
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Alcohol Use Screening
- Substance Abuse Screening
- The Drinker’s Checkup
Depression drains your energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult to do what you need to feel better. But while overcoming depression isn’t quick or easy, it’s far from impossible. You can’t beat it through sheer willpower, but you do have some control—even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent. The key is to start small and build from there. Feeling better takes time, but you can get there if you make positive choices for yourself each day.
Tips to Beat Depression
To beat depression you must keep a healthy lifestyle, learning to manage stress, setting limits on what you’re able to do, adopting healthy habits, and scheduling fun activities into your day. Here are some recommended guidelines:
- Aim for eight hours of sleep. Depression typically involves sleep problems. Whether you’re sleeping too little or too much, your mood suffers. Get on a better sleep schedule by learning healthy sleep habits.
- Keep stress in check. Not only does stress prolong and worsen depression, but it can also trigger it. Figure out all the things in your life that stress you out. Examples include: work overload, unsupportive relationships, taking on too much, or health problems. Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.
- Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
- Expose yourself to a little sunlight every day. Lack of sunlight can make depression worse. Make sure you’re getting enough. Take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee outside, enjoy an al fresco meal, people-watch on a park bench, or sit out in the garden. Aim for at least 15 minutes of sunlight a day to boost your mood. If you live somewhere with little winter sunshine, try using a light therapy box.
- Care for a pet. While nothing can replace the human connection, pets can bring joy and companionship into your life and help you feel less isolated. Caring for a pet can also get you outside of yourself and give you a sense of being needed—both powerful antidotes to depression.
- Exercise is a powerful tool for dealing with depression. In fact, studies show that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication at increasing energy levels and decreasing feelings of fatigue.
Scientists haven’t figured out exactly why exercise is such a potent antidepressant, but evidence suggests that physical activity triggers new cell growth in the brain, increases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters and endorphins, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension—all things that can have a positive effect on depression.
To gain the most benefits, aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. You can start small, though, as short 10-minute bursts of activity can have a positive effect on your mood. Here are a few easy ways to get moving:
- Take the stairs rather than the elevator
- Park your car in the farthest spot in the lot
- Pair up with an exercise partner
- Walk while you’re talking on the phone
- Take your dog for a walk
If you or a loved one is a veteran and experiencing depression, seclusion, or despondency, take a minute to reach out using the suggested resources listed here. It’s a starting point, a place to begin.