Everyone gets depressed at times, but sometimes the weight of depression stays with us for weeks or months. That’s clinical depression. A website called “After Deployment” offers veterans training videos and workbooks on a variety of issues, including depression. You can access the site by going to: http://afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-depression.
How do you know that what you’re dealing with is actually depression? Everyone has bad days, and sometimes we have multiple bad days in a row, but with clinical depression, the bad days come and don’t go. If your sadness lasts more than 2 weeks, it’s likely you’re clinically depressed.
Feelings that go hand-in-hand with depression include:
- Overwhelming sense of hopelessness
- Isolation or feelings of aloneness
- Survivor guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feeling like a failure
- Feeling like everything is pointless
- Sleep disturbances (too little or too much)
- Weight changes
- Increased anxiety
Depression affects your body, actions, thoughts and mood. You may feel a loss of energy, sadness, anger, worthlessness, or have thoughts of suicide or death. Depression doesn’t just affect you; it affects everyone in the family.
The on-line workbook offers forms to help you record your thoughts. Since behavior change precedes mood change, you will be encouraged to begin exercising even though that may be the last thing you want to do. Exercise causes the release of endorphins that increase feelings of calmness and peace. Relaxation programs can help too. Other things that can help pull you through include:
- Strong spirituality
- Setting specific future goals
- Good coping skills
- A good sense of humor
- Good family support
- Getting enough rest, good nutrition and exercise
If you seek medical help, you’ll likely be offered psychotherapy and/or medications, both of which are effective ways to successfully overcome depression.
I recently read an article by a veteran who said that it wasn’t enough for people to just say thank you for serving. I agree. That wasn’t enough to do for those who have laid it all on the line in defense of freedom. But, I wasn’t sure what else to do.
You see, I thought about that a lot and, while I agree that just saying thank you isn’t enough, I wasn’t sure what else I could do. Then I realized that I really didn’t have to look too hard for the answer. If freedom is what men and women are fighting to protect, then living free is the best way to show my gratitude.
When you see that little girl playing and she’s not living in fear that she’ll be beaten for speaking her mind, that’s living free. When that little boy can play outside without fear of being shot, that’s it too. When any of us can speak up and say what we don’t like about our government and act to change things, that’s also living free. That’s what else I can offer.
As each of us lives free in all that it entails, that is how we repay those who have fought for freedom, not by just saying “thank you.” Yes, I’m tremendously grateful for each of you who have served, but I can best express that by living the life you paid for me to have. I hope I never let you down!
One of the more frustrating things I’ve found in working with veterans and others who have disabilities, is that other people (especially medical personnel) refuse to recognize that when someone has an illness or condition, it is going to affect the entire body, not just the area where the injury or illness is located.
For example, if you have had an injury to your ankle while in the service, over the years it is likely to affect your knees, your hips, back, and right on up your spinal column. This happens because as you favor that ankle, you put more pressure on the other ankle to carry your weight. You change your posture as you shift to take pressure off the injured ankle, and that in turn stresses your knees, hips, back, shoulders, etc. The VA too often wants to look at that ankle injury as an individual problem, and not something that will have consequences in other areas of the body too.
Likewise mental distress can also affect your ability to heal. The nervous energy expended by worrying can slow down the healing process considerably. In addition, sometimes veterans refuse to take pain medications as prescribed as a form of self-punishment to atone for things they did while in the service. In order to be effective, you must treat the disease as well as treating the underlying mental problem.
The human body is not made up of disconnected parts and pieces that function independently of one another. Everything is joined by nerves, blood, muscle and connective tissues. If you have an injury or illness in one area, it will affect all of you, both mentally and physically. Perhaps treatment would be more effective if medical professionals would accept this too.
Sometimes people think that because their dog brings them comfort and emotional support it automatically qualifies as a “service dog,” but that isn’t true. Service dogs allow people with disabilities to be more independent because they are trained to do specific tasks, such as picking up things that have fallen, or helping someone with balance problems to climb stairs.
Dogs used for protection, emotional support or companionship do not qualify as service dogs. That does not make them any less valuable or important to their owners; it just means they can’t wear the official label of service animal.
Dogs, whether service animals or not, provide us with companionship and emotional support. They can encourage mobility, interpersonal contact and improve chances for socialization. Dogs can help veterans feel accepted, ease stress and lower blood pressure.
While the VA does not currently recognize the use of service dogs for treating physical or mental health conditions, they are currently conducting research as to the things service dogs can do to help veterans with PTSD. Having witnessed several veterans with PTSD begin their healing with the help of a companion dog, I can attest to the value of using pets to help cope.