Tag Archives: depression

Suicide and Addiction: What You Need To Know

by Michelle Peterson

Suicide and Addiction

Suicide can destroy lives, but for all of its power it is still one of the least talked-about dangers facing Americans today. There is such a stigma associated with self-harm that many people are reluctant to talk about it or even face that a loved one might be in danger. It’s extremely important to raise awareness about suicide so that friends and family of those at risk will know what to look for.

Some of the most at-risk individuals include people suffering from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder include: people living with depression or other mood disorders; veterans; and those living with substance abuse issues. Drugs and alcohol play a big part in suicide rates for teens and adults in the U.S., in part because they both mask and exacerbate the symptoms of serious mood and mental health disorders. In fact, individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction are six times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

“The connection between substance abuse and suicide has not been sufficiently well understood. People in both the mental health and substance abuse fields have likely had experiences that would demonstrate the connection, but I think that probably few appreciate the magnitude of the relationship between substance abuse and suicide,” says SAMHSA’s Public Health Adviser Richard McKeon.

Drugs and alcohol may be used to lighten the mood at parties, but for some, these substances lean toward the darker side of a mood and heighten feelings of hopelessness because they alter the way the brain works. When you ingest a drug, it interferes with the way neurons both send and receive information, as well as the way they process it. Some drugs can even make neurons malfunction, causing them to release overwhelmingly large amounts of neurotransmitters. This extra commotion sometimes causes disruptions in neural communication — in other words, your brain has trouble sending signals and commands to your body.

For some, this can explain that dizzy feeling you get after having too much to drink. For others, it offers insight into why it might be difficult to register what someone else is saying to you after you’ve ingested large quantities of cocaine. But it offers interesting perspective into the idea of using drugs and alcohol as a buffer in social situations: though for many it can put an anxiety-ridden mind at ease, for some it can actually make socializing even more difficult. When you’re having trouble functioning properly, it makes interactions with others awkward at best, and impossible at worst. This certainly does no favors for those longing for social connection but dependent on substances to find it, and may even lead to added distress over repeated failed attempts to “fit in.”

Drug and alcohol use also causes judgement to be impaired, and the tendency to act upon a thought without thinking it through clearly means that once the individual feels like suicide is the only option, they are that much more likely to act upon it. For this reason, it’s imperative that individuals who suffer from addiction do not have access to weapons, especially guns, and that they have a strong social and familial support system. Because substance abuse is a destroyer of relationships, this can be difficult to achieve.

Depressed Girl: Suicide and AddictionBecause isolation is common in people living with a substance abuse disorder, it’s important for friends and family to know what to look for where suicidal thoughts are concerned. Warning signs may not be overt, but there will likely be some indication that the individual is thinking about self-harm. These can include:

  • Talking about or writing about death, especially their own
  • Giving away belongings
  • Making plans to see family members they haven’t seen in a long time
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Getting into legal trouble
  • Suddenly acting happy or hopeful after a long down period
  • Violent episodes

If your loved one is exhibiting any of these behaviors, don’t second-guess your instincts; talk to them. Start a conversation by saying you’re concerned about them and ask, flat-out, if they are thinking about taking their own life. Do not be judgmental or use negative statements, such as “You’re not thinking about doing something stupid, are you?” Starting the conversation that way will likely only push the individual away and prompt them to deny their true feelings.

You also want to make sure not to demean the idea of suicide by calling it selfish, dramatic, or cowardly. Remember, it’s OK for you to have strong feelings about taking one’s own life, but the focus needs to be on respecting the agony your loved one is in. Of course you want to deter them, but don’t write off the action of suicide (or the mere thought of it) as silly, because the fact is, suicide isn’t silly. If your loved one is contemplating it, they likely feel as if they’ve exhausted all other options. It isn’t silly to feel so devastatingly sad that you feel life isn’t worth living, so be incredibly cautious to make sure you don’t send that message even unintentionally.

Instead, let them know you’re worried for their wellbeing and give them an opening to talk. Ask questions, but be sensitive. Sometimes simply checking in on how someone is coping with a major trauma — death of a spouse, job loss, or struggling with an addiction, for example — is the best route to open up the conversation. Don’t make accusations about how you think they feel, but don’t be deterred if they don’t immediately open up. Continue to talk to them about what’s going on, and remind them that you care about them and would be happy to help in any way you could. Don’t assume they already know; often, those in the depths of major depression are overwhelmed with their pain, and those with an addiction, especially, may be convinced that no one will care. Making your love and genuine concern for someone’s wellbeing can be the ultimate difference between an honest, productive conversation and a shutout.

It may be difficult to keep your feelings neutral; this is an emotional subject, and suicide is something many people feel strongly about. However, it’s important to show your loved one that you are there to help, not to judge. Offer to help them find a counselor, helpline, or rehab center and let them know they are not alone. Often, addiction can make the user feel as though they have no one on their side, no one to turn to, and it can lead to actions that push friends and family away. Let them know you’re there for them.

If self-harm seems imminent, do not leave your loved one alone. Call for help immediately and remember that there is only so much you can do. Sometimes, it’s up to the professionals to step in and take over.

Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.

Photo via Pixabay by 422694

Spring Lilac

May is Mental Health Month

May Mental Health Month?

Spring Lilac

Photo by Deb Lutkevich

Oh whoopee! Another special cause.

Do we really need Mental Health Month? Yes, we do.

Here are some sobering statistics about mental health in America:

  • 1 in 5 Americans are affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 25 Americans will suffer from a serious mental illness.
  • One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 24.
  • 1 in 100 (2.4 million) American adults live with schizophrenia.
  • 2.6% (6.1 million) of American adults live with bipolar disorder.
  • 6.9% (16 million) of American adults live with major depression.
  • 18.1% (42 million) of American adults live with anxiety disorders.
  • Approximately 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness.
  • Approximately 24% of state prisoners have “a recent history of a mental health condition”.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease.
  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.

Thank you to the NIMH for most of these statistics, and to NAMI where they were collected into easy-to-use documents. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers.

Coming up next…where help is available and how professionals can be more accessible to those in need.

 

Help End the Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

How can we end barriers to mental health treatment and reduce the stigma associated with it?

An article published on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website states that “In 2010, the Affordable Care Act extended health insurance coverage to individuals aged 19 to 25 whose parents had employer-sponsored private insurance. Thanks to this extended coverage, more young adults have access to mental health and substance abuse treatment services through their parents’ employer-sponsored health insurance.”Person receiving mental health treatment

The article goes on to say that from 2004-2012, average yearly treatment costs for 19-25-year-olds who received mental and substance use treatment remained constant at approximately $1,600. However, the source of those payments changed significantly. Private insurance took on a much larger share, increasing from $520 to $822 annually, while treatment paid by Medicaid and other public sources (such as Medicare, Veterans Affairs/Civilian Health and Medicaid Program for Uniform Services) declined from $698 to $417. (February 16, 2016) Retrieved from http://blog.samhsa.gov/2016/02/18/more-young-adults-use-private-insurance-for-behavioral-health-treatment-following-the-acas-dependent-coverage-mandate/#.VsspKPkrI5c. February 22, 2016.

Although this data indicates that private insurance is covering more of the cost for those seeking treatment, there is not a corresponding statistic that shows an increase in young adults seeking mental health care. Is that because there aren’t more young adults who need mental health or substance abuse care? Are there significant barriers for those who seek mental health treatment?

Joel L. Young M.D. in Addressing Mental Health Treatment Barriers  (January 29, 2014) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201401/addressing-mental-health-treatment-barriers published on Psychology Today’s blog page lists the following barriers to seeking mental health treatment for people of any age:

  • Refusing Treatment – I don’t want/need help.
  • Balancing Life and Treatment – I don’t have time.
  • Financial Issues – I can’t afford it.
  • Family Support – I’m the screw up of my family. My family doesn’t want to admit I have a mental illness.
  • Geographic Barriers – There isn’t any place to receive treatment that I can get to.
  • Finding the Right Treatment – I can’t find a therapist that I can work with.
Graphic of barriers to mental health treatment

Graphic view of barriers to seeking mental health treatment.

Another barrier to seeking treatment must not be overlooked. Stigma. Refusing treatment, balancing life and treatment, a lack of family support are frequently the result of the stigma of mental illness, and the “Black Sheep” point of view are informed by that stigma. It seems incredible that in this age of enlightenment, of ready access to the internet, and of celebrity espousal of the cause, the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse is still so prevalent. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201401/addressing-mental-health-treatment-barriers. February 22, 2016.stigma symbol stop

Here are some suggestions of how to help from an article found on Shatter the Stigma Mend the Mind found at http://www.mendthemind.ca/stigma/seven-important-things-we-can-do-reduce-stigma-and-discrimination, on February 22, 2016.

1. Know the facts.

Educate yourself about mental health problems. Learn the facts (“Top 11 Myths about Mental Illness”) instead of the myths. Visiting our website is a great place to start!

2. Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour

We’ve all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking. But we can change the way we think! See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond their mental illness; they have many other personal attributes that do not disappear just because they also have a mental illness.

3. Choose your words carefully

The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language.

4. Educate others

Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems. If your friends, family, co-workers or even the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with mental health problems by keeping alive the false ideas.

5. Focus on the positive

People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.

6. Support people

Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.

7. Include everyone

In Canada and the US, it is against the law for employers and people who provide services to discriminate against people with mental health and substance use problems. Denying people access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, which the rest of us take for granted, violates human rights.

Speak up when you hear someone using stereotypical statements and/or making derogatory remarks about folks with mental illness. Keeping quiet is tacitly agreeing to what is being said. Sometimes it takes courage to speak up, but it is your duty to do so.

Click here to go to the National Alliance of Mental Health’s graphic describing how children and teens are affected by mental health issues.

Check out these websites. They offer great information and ideas for stamping out the stigma of mental illness.

http://bringchange2mind.org/
https://www.nami.org/stigmafree
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brick-brick/201405/the-stigma-mental-illness-is-making-us-sicker
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dustin-demoss/combating-the-stigma-of-m_b_6834980.html
https://wholeperson.com/store/mental-health-stigma.shtml

Animal Assisted Therapy – How Animals Help Humans Heal

Animal Assisted Therapy Works!

My dog at work

Those of us who own pets know they make us happy. But a growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can also make us healthy, or healthier. Animal assisted therapy is gaining more impetus every day.

That helps explain the increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.

What, exactly, is animal therapy? According to the Mayo Clinic,  “Animal assisted therapy is a broad term that includes animal assisted therapy and other animal assisted activities.” Animal assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:

  • Children having dental proceduresAnimal assisted therapy with veterans
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

And it’s not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Animals also can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviors in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking. (From Mayo Clinic Consumer Health Retrieved 2-10-2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342?pg=2.)

Dogs trainingn for Animal Assisted Therapy waiting for play time

Waiting for play time

Take Viola, or Vi for short. The NPR website tells us her story  in an article entitled “Pet Therapy: How Animals And Humans Heal Each Other” by Julie Rovner: (Julie is now with Kaiser Health News.)

The retired guide dog is the resident canine at the Children’s Innhttp://www.aubreyhfine.com/faithful-companion/ on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Families stay there when their children are undergoing experimental therapies at NIH.

Vi, a chunky yellow Labrador retriever with a perpetually wagging tail, greets families as they come downstairs in the morning and as they return from treatment in the afternoon. She can even be “checked out” for a walk around the bucolic NIH grounds.

Thelma Balmaceda, age, 4, [loves to] pet Viola, the resident canine at the Children’s Inn on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Families stay at the inn when their children are undergoing experimental therapies at NIH.Little boy enjoying animal assisted therapy

“There really isn’t a day when she (Vi) doesn’t brighten the spirits of a kid at the Inn. And an adult. And a staff member,” says Meredith Daly, the inn’s spokeswoman.

But Vi may well be doing more than just bringing smiles to the faces of stressed-out parents and children. Dogs like Vi have helped launch an entirely new field of medical research over the past three decades.

Aubrey Fine, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State Polytechnic University says that use of animals in medicine dates back to Egyptian times where dogs and serpents were often symbols of powerful healers.  “One could even look at Florence Nightingale recognizing that animals provided a level of social support in the institutional care of the mentally ill,” says Fine, who has written several books on the human-animal bond, including his latest  “Our Faithful Companions: Exploring the Essence of Our Kinship with Animals.”

But it was only in the late 1970s at a conference in Dundee, Scotland researchers started to uncover the scientific underpinnings for that bond. In a study published in October of 1988 authors Vormbrock and Grossberg reported “Results revealed that (a) subjects’ BP levels were lowest during dog petting, higher while talking to the dog, and highest while talking to the experimenter and (b) subjects’ heart rates were lower while talking or touching the dog and higher while both touching and talking to the dog.”Blood pressure patient enjoying animal assisted therapy

Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, explains that interaction with animals can increase our level of oxytocin, the renowned “feel good” hormone.

“That is very beneficial for us,” Johnson said. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting. Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier.”

But Johnson says it may also have longer-term human health benefits. “Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier.” From an article by Laurel Johnson to downloaded on Feb. 9, 2016 from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/07/29/pets-as-therapy/.

Johnson is now working on a new project with likely benefits for dogs and humans. Military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are providing shelter dogs with basic obedience training.Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs Work with PTSD Veterans

And while it’s still early in the research, she says, one thing is pretty clear: “Helping the animals is helping the veterans to readjust to being at home.”

Animal assisted therapy with pigeon

Animals act as therapists themselves or facilitate therapy — even when they’re not dogs or cats. For example, psychologist Fine, who works with troubled children, uses dogs in his practice — and also a cockatoo and even a bearded dragon named Tweedle.

“One of the things that we have always know is that the animals help a clinician go under the radar of a child’s consciousness, because the child is much more at ease and seems to be much more willing to reveal,” he says.

Horses have also become popular therapists for people with disabilities. Animal Assisted therapy horse“The beauty of the horse is that it can be therapeutic in so many different ways,” says Breeanna Bornhorst, executive director of the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program in Clifton, Va. “Some of our riders might benefit from the connection and the relationship-building with the horse and with their environment. Other riders maybe will benefit physically, from the movements, and build that core strength, and body awareness and muscle memory.”

Animal assisted therapy dogs at the University of California

Therapy dogs at the University of California

 

 

 

 

Bell

Mental Illness Stigma – A long-fought battle

Stigma of Mental Illness

Folks have been fighting the stigma of mental illness since before mental illness was a diagnosis. Recently, I found the following article describing the creation of the symbol for Mental Health of America of the Heartland. Incredible as it seems, as late as the 1950’s mental health patients were bound with iron restraints.

Story of the Bell

From http://mhah.org/who-we-are/story-of-the-bell/, downloaded January 28, 2016.

Mental Health Stigma Bell

“Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.” – Inscription on the Mental Health Bell

During World War II, future leaders of the National Mental Health Association worked in state mental hospitals. There, they witnessed the deplorable and inhumane treatment of patients with mental illnesses who were chained by their wrists and ankles to the hospital walls. This experience inspired the men to devote their time to improving the lives of all those who suffer from mental illnesses, and changing the way America thinks about persons with mental illnesses. They believed with better understanding and treatments, the cruel practice of using shackles and chains to restrain people with mental illness would eventually stop.

In 1950, the National Mental Health Association chose a bell as their symbol. Two years later, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. Volunteers at the Mental Health Association’s National Headquarters in New York collected the metal restraints from hundreds of mental hospitals across the country and piled them in the building’s lobby. These restraints were then shipped to the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland, where on April 13, 1956 they were dropped into a crucible and cast into a 300-pound bell. Nothing could proclaim hope for those who have mental illness more dramatically than a bell cast from the actual chains and shackles used as restraints for persons with mental illnesses.

To many, a bell symbolizes freedom and liberty for the 40 million Americans affected by mental illnesses. The bell serves as a powerful reminder that the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination continue to bind people with mental illnesses.

Over the years, national mental health leaders and other prominent individuals have rung the Bell to mark the continued progress in the fight for victory over mental illnesses.

Today the Mental Health Bell stands as a national symbol for the mental health movement.

Bring Change 2 Mind is a great place to learn about stigma.

Sacramento, CA sponsors another good site.

Psychology Today also addresses the stigma of mental health.

Tell us what are your favorite sites to fight the stigma of mental illness.

How we manage stress is passed on in families

Depressed TeenWhat causes most depression: genetics or experiences?

A hint to the answer comes from the comparisons of depression and schizophrenia rates worldwide. Schizophrenia is found in approximately 1% of the population no matter the culture. Depression varies dramatically culture to culture suggesting it could be contagious.

Consider the following and see if you think depression is spreading:

  • The World Health Organization says depression is the fourth leading cause of human disability and projects by 2020 it’ll take over second place.
  • The average onset of depression is the mid-20s. It used to be the mid-30s.
  • According to clinical psychologist Michael Yapko, long-term studies show depression intensifying one generation to the next, “Today’s parents are the largest depressed group raising the fastest-growing group of depression sufferers.”
  • We’re four times more depressed than our parents; ten times more so than our grandparents! And this is not due to greater awareness of the illness.

Since depressed people experience far more difficulty socially than do those not depressed, could they be spreading the illness? They have:

  • More family and marital arguments;
  • Less relationship satisfaction;
  • Greater unhappiness;

Even though you can be genetically vulnerable to depression, the greater cause is learning, mostly from our families, how to manage what goes on inside our heads, including our:

  • Explanatory style (the meaning we attach to life experiences);
  • Cognitive style (thinking);
  • Coping style (how we manage stress);
  • Problem-solving style;
  • Relational style;

Families model their thinking, feeling, and relating to others, passing on these patterns to other family members.

Yapko also reports a near-perfect correlation between parents’ explanatory style and their child’s. When your child asks you why something happened, your explanation represents your style of thinking including your belief of what caused it. “Why can’t I take tennis lessons, Mom?” “It’s a waste of money since you’ll never be coordinated.” Mom attributes the cause to the child’s clumsiness. And her permanently negative attribution communicates nothing will ever change.

Yapko says these routine interactions happen multiple times daily, imperceptibly shaping the child’s beliefs about himself and his world. They influence how he filters risk-taking, his own potential, whom he blames when things go wrong – and – his vulnerability to depression.

Additionally, the child who learns to make global assumptions that life events are beyond his control experiences greater helplessness and hopelessness, ingredients for depression. He’s more likely to perceive himself helpless about his happiness, competence and relationships.

Studies show these interpretation patterns are established early on. In one study, 8 year-old children were asked how they’d respond if shopping with their mother and suddenly finding themselves separated from her. The anxious children produced scary scenarios of never finding their parents and being adopted by strangers. The nonanxious kids said they’d ask the store manager to make a P-A announcement. Free of their peers’ anxiety, they’d think their way through to solving the problem.

Which patterns of perceiving are you teaching your kids?

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Children need hope and optimism to deal with stress

Pessimistic people get depressed much more often

No matter how wonderful and stable a child’s life may seem, she still has stress: rejection by friends, difficulty with homework, dealing with a bully. Your children need to know that when they experience these set-backs, life’s not over; tomorrow is another day.

Children need hope and optimism to be resilient to stress and to persist in dealing with life’s inevitable ups and downs. The more realistically optimistic your children, the better they’ll deal with stress – usually.

Optimism is the fourth component your children’s Stress Safety Net, which helps them feel safe, secure and loved. This gives them the foundation to better handle stress throughout their lives.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a highly respected researcher in the field of cognitive psychology, has found in more than 1,000 studies involving more than a half-million children and adults, pessimistic people do worse than optimistic people in three ways, they:

  • Get depressed much more often;
  • Achieve less at school, on the job and in sports;
  • Their physical health is worse;

With today’s depression rate ten times that of the 1950s, anything that can fight depression is vitally important, which optimism does.

However, sometimes pessimism is the more appropriate response. When the consequences are high that an optimistic view is wrong, it’s better to go with a pessimistic perception. For example, an optimistic perception of cheating on a test would be, “I won’t get caught.” If the consequences of being caught are too great, then the pessimistic, “I’ll get caught,” is the better way to go.

To help your children become more optimistic teach them the connection between their thoughts, feelings and behavior; what they think about a stressor determines how they feel emotionally about it, which determines how they react to it. Teach them that all-or-nothing words like always, never, everyone, no one, are indicators they’re probably thinking pessimistically and adding unnecessary stress to difficult situations.

For example, your daughter’s very interested in the boy who’s approaching her in the hall. She’s thinking, “He’ll never notice me because I’m always so boring.” She feels anxious, worthless and pessimistic.

Teach her, however, that she’s not feeling these emotions because he ignores her but rather because of what she’s telling herself about this possibility. Teach her to change what she thinks in order to change how she feels and responds.

She could think more optimistically, “Here he comes. He hasn’t noticed me before but maybe I can engage him in conversation. He won’t notice me unless I assertive myself.”

Obviously, he still may have no interest but – and this is a huge but – she can limit the damage by spinning it more optimistically. Understanding she feels rotten because she tells herself rotten things about herself teaches her to change what she thinks to something like, “It’s his loss.”

Many adults never learn that their feelings are determined by what they say to themselves. They never learn to take charge of their thinking. Instead, give your kids the gift of optimism with this self-empowering and stress reducing understanding.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.

Our veterans are coming home

Our veterans* are coming home. We are called to help them heal.Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not yet over, but our veterans are coming home.

  • Some have completed their military duty.
  • More will return to Iraq or Afghanistan for another tour.
  • 4,865 have died as of March 2009 and will not return home alive.
  • 32,000 have sustained war injuries, and 20,000 are
  • returning with Purple Hearts.
  •  500,000 carry within them deep, invisible, emotional wounds—unknowable to others, often unknown even to themselves.
  • Many have lived through life-altering spiritual trauma and will find the quest for peace and reconciliation more difficult than fighting the war.
  • Too many will commit suicide in the coming years—
  • probably more than the numbers killed in battle.
  •  All—yes ALL—returning service members will experience the challenge of re-entry as they leave the war zone behind and begin to put their lives back together.

*In this book we use veterans, service members, and soldiers as generic terms. We refer to specific branches (marines, reservists, etc.) only in relation to specific studies. To reflect the growing prominence of women in the military we have tried to strike a balance on the use of gendered pronouns.

When they come home, excitement is in the air! . . . at first.

Anyone who has seen a typical welcome home event understands the public expressions of joy and relief felt by family members. Young children sit on relatives’ shoulders to catch a first glimpse of their father or mother. Parents breathe a palpable sigh of relief when they see their son or daughter march onto the tarmac, armory, or gym floor. Prayers have been answered, and everyone anticipates that life together can begin once again. Over a few months and with hard work, many veterans and their family members do find a new “normal.”

Behind the jubilant homecoming celebrations, however, many returning veterans hide invisible wounds.

Upon returning home, many veterans face the biggest challenge of their lifetime and begin fighting a personal, hidden war in earnest. Often well concealed at first, for many the signs and symptoms of post-war trauma and stress—depression, anxiety, domestic problems, substance abuse, isolation, suicide, and homelessness— eventually appear. According to the U.S. Defense Department, of the 96,000 National Guard members and reservists who have completed health reassessments since October 2006, half have reported health problems unrelated to combat wounds.

Providing attentive care in the first few months after a veteran returns home is important for several reasons. First, early detection usually results in more effective treatment and better outcomes. Second, early treatment can prevent a cascade of interrelated problems stemming from unaddressed physical, emotional, and spiritual post-war trauma and distress. Loved ones, friends, and close work associates are often the first to notice emerging problems and also become the key people through whom difficulties are initially addressed.

America faces a crisis of care.

Service members and their families face deep spiritual crises not generally in public view. Sufficient resources have not been committed to help returning veterans recover from the traumas of war. To be sure, many good programs are already in place and actively serving returning veterans. Existing governmental programs, however, are stressed to the limit. Adequate numbers of programs, policies, and personnel are not available to meet current needs—and the largest surge of returning veterans has not yet peaked. America, having put forth its best to fight these wars, must now match that effort in helping our sons and daughters heal.

Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal, pp. 7-8

Depression can be treated

Might your moodiness be clinical depression?

Everyone feels “blue” at times but clinical depression runs more deeply. A diagnosis of depression requires the presence of one of two features for most of the day, nearly every day for two-weeks:
· Depressed mood;
· Loss of interest or pleasure in activities;

Symptoms include:
· Change in appetite and weight: You seldom feel hungry and may forget to eat. You have to force yourself to eat even a few bites. Preparing meals requires too much energy. Significant weight loss may occur.
· Or an increase in appetite and weight gain; craving certain foods such as sweets or carbohydrates;
· Trouble sleeping;
· Or sleeping too much;
· Overly agitated – difficulty sitting still, pacing and fidgeting;
· Slowed down – sluggish movements, slumped while sitting, avert your eyes, speak slowly and sparsely in a monotone with low volume, pausing before responding to questions, slower thinking ;
· Decreased energy, feeling tired and fatigued: Simple day-to-day tasks seem overwhelming. You may tire quickly in everything you do. Your work at home and at the office suffers.
· Feeling worthless or guilty: You focus on past failures, personalize trivial events, see minor mistakes as proof that you’re inadequate. You blame yourself for all that goes wrong. You hate yourself and think you’re a bad person.
· Thinking problems: Negative and pessimistic thoughts increase your belief that nothing can get better; trouble with thinking, concentrating or making decisions especially if your work is mentally challenging
· Feeling sad, depressed, blue, empty, hopeless, helpless;

Hopelessness is having a negative view of your future; an assumption that pain and unhappiness will continue. You’re quite sure your life won’t get better.

Helplessness is a negative view of yourself; you lack self-confidence and believe it’s not possible to feel better. “What’s the use?” sums it up. Strong feelings of helplessness can lead to thoughts of suicide. If you contemplate suicide you should consult a professional immediately. Symptoms include:
· Often on the edge of crying;
· Depressed appearance (facial expressions, disposition);
· Overly irritable;
· Physical problems, especially chronic headaches, stomachaches, joint and back pain, indigestion, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome;

The second feature of depression is a significant loss of interest or pleasure in most activities nearly every day for at least two-weeks. “I just don’t care anymore,” explains your feelings toward things you once enjoyed. Your detachment is noticeable to your friends and family, too.

If you’re depressed, consider what I wrote last week: depressive symptoms may be a normal response to what’s wrong in your life and may facilitate you focusing like a laser beam on solving it.

And get professional help (next week’s topic). With today’s treatments there’s simply no reason to go through life assuming it can be no better. Your depression may improve with no treatment, and it may return. The degree of hopelessness and helplessness determines whether or not you seek help. Sometimes it’s up to loved ones to get you the treatment you need and deserve.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at wholeperson.com.

Looking on the Bright Side: Outlook Skills

Life is bound to be stressful, but there are things you can do to reduce the amount of stress you juggle on a daily basis. You can decrease the amount of stress you have by viewing events in a different light. The ways you cope by adjusting your viewpoint are called Outlook skills. These are particularly helpful when you:

  • feel depressed,
  • tend to be cynical,
  • experience grief, and/or
  • limit yourself.

You may already be familiar with relabeling — rather than assume the worst, allow yourself to look at it another way. Rather than get cranky your dentist is running late and you’re stuck in the waiting room, think of it as extra free time and let yourself relax.

Another way to change your outlook is called whispering. Let’s face it, we all talk to ourselves. We don’t always do it aloud, but we are the film critics to the movies of our lives. Maybe you spill something. Do you usually think something such as “oh good job!” sarcastically? Or do you clean it up and go on your way? Try whispering good things to yourself instead. You can combat that little nagging voice. Try making an index card with a list of positive messages. If you start to get down on yourself, just look at that card. Add to it when you want, and carry it with you.

  • Do you let your inner voice bog you down?
  • Do you relabel, or do you sweat the small stuff?

Depression more common now

Effort-driven rewards are more meaningful than short-term pleasures
By Jacquelyn Ferguson, MS

Isn’t it odd that depression in America increased along with our affluence? Shouldn’t it work the other way around? Is there something in our relatively prosperous lifestyle that’s an actual cause of depression?

The pioneer of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, described two studies conducted in the 1970s in which people of different generations reported on their lifetime episodes of depression.

One might assume that the older generation would have more incidents of depression because of experiencing far more hardships from the Great Depression and two world wars, not to mention having lived longer.

But the opposite was true. Younger people were much more likely to have experienced depression. In fact, one study found that those born in the middle third of the 20th century were ten times more likely to suffer from major depression than those born in the first third of the century.

Here are two reasons that may help explain.

Lifestyle differences: older generations were far more physically active than younger ones. Think about some differences:

  •  Today it’s throw-away diapers; yesterday it was cloth diapers that were soaked and washed;
  •  Today you buy microwavable, ready-to-eat meals; yesterday, they grew, hunted, and prepared their own food;
  •  Etc.

Why might modern life along with its hi-tech gizmos, cars and microwaves be part of the soaring rate of depression? What might we have lost when we went from labor-intensive lifestyles to our sedentary ones?

“Our brains are programmed to derive deep satisfaction and pleasure when our physical effort produces something tangible,” says neuroscientist and psychologist Kelly Lambert, writing in Scientific American Mind (and author of “Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-on Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power, 2008.) She calls our ancestors’ hard work “effort-driven rewards.” They had greater appreciation of their efforts producing their necessities, which very importantly gave them a greater perception of control, more positive emotions and maybe protection against depression.

Other social scientists have suggested a contributor to the greater affluence/higher depression formula has to do with modern humans taking short-cuts to happiness. With increased disposable income and leisure time we bought more things (note the past tense) that brought us pleasure. But pleasures are short term enjoyments. They are sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating your favorite foods, sex or watching spectator sports. Investing more energy into pleasures gives you frequent upticks in happiness, but they fade quickly.

It turns out that we’re happier and less depressed when we seek gratifications. These are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They:

  • Involve thinking;
  • Are an expression of your strengths;
  • Stretch your skills to improve;
  • Are often considered “flow” activities;
  • Gratifications also lead to an increase in important, positive emotion boosting neurochemical releases which improves mood.

Consider fighting the blues and depression by seeking fewer short-term pleasures and more meaningful gratifications. Next week I’ll address identifying your strengths that are at the core of these gratifications.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book by clicking here. 

Let Your Body Win