That we don’t give mental health the attention it deserves is no big surprise. We don’t take very good care of ourselves in general — even at the height of the Cold War, Soviets and Americans alike ate “too much for good health.” Treating the body with the respect it deserves, to say nothing of the mind, is an uphill battle.
Countries rely upon their servicemen and servicewomen and spend a great deal of time and words honoring them for what they do. However, we still fall short and leave people out in the cold sometimes.
If you are a veteran, or you know one, the following will provide some reassurance that you are not alone in tangling with depression. Here are some practical suggestions for getting the upper hand and reclaiming your life.
1. Remember That You Are Not Alone
Figures from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicate that major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability today among Americans aged 15 to 44. The National Institute of Mental Health estimated in 2014 that 17.3 million Americans 18 or older experienced one or more depressive episodes in the previous year. That comes to 7.1% of the U.S. population.
Among veterans specifically, the proportions are even higher. About 18.5 percent of U.S. service members who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
You are far from alone in fighting this. Let that knowledge provide some comfort as you look toward the next steps.
2. Be Willing to Ask for Help
Mental health is still a taboo topic in the United States. That means it may feel difficult to know how to ask for help, or even how to describe your situation once you’ve found a sympathetic ear.
As noted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, “depressive disorder can affect anyone.” Feelings of sadness come and go and are a natural part of life. However, those who feel they don’t have any real hope of getting out are likely to have depression. If you’ve recognized these feelings in yourself, open up to somebody you trust.
3. Know the Signs and Symptoms of Depression
It’s important to know the specific signs and symptoms of depression. If you know what to look for, you’ll be one step closer to reaching out for the right kinds of help.
Experiencing some of the following symptoms intermittently and temporarily doesn’t mean you are depressed. However, it’s important to know that some of the mental and physiological changes brought on by depressive episodes can be difficult to pick up on.
Focus on familiarizing yourself with the signs of depression to look out for:
- Regularly feeling hopeless for extended periods
- No longer deriving pleasure from activities you once enjoyed
- Experiencing weight fluctuations and changes in appetite
- Disruptions to your sleep schedule, including insomnia or sleeping all the time
Depression is also marked by regular feelings of malaise, no energy and a lack of interest in relationships.
4. Eat Healthy and Take More Exercise
There is a unique kind of pride and pleasure to be found in caring for one’s body. Unfortunately, when you’re battling depression, personal care — including maintaining good hygiene and eating habits — can be one of the first things to go.
Dig your heels in on this slippery slope and remember that your body is, if not a temple, then at least something wholly yours. Take time out of your day to eat small, regular meals consisting of healthful foods you enjoy. Fuel your body and it’ll be there for you.
When it comes to exercise, it’s wise not to force things. If you don’t like running, you don’t have to. Not everybody benefits from exercise in the same way anyway. Keep experimenting with different forms of physical activity until you find one you enjoy and that makes you feel good.
The physical and mental buzz that follows a good workout is unique. It will give you a strong foundation on which to build other positive habits and sources of personal accomplishment.
5. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
We’d all be wise not to shrug off meditation as a positive addition to a healthy lifestyle. For veterans who return from the field struggling with depression and anxiety disorders, the effects of meditation can have an especially powerful and rebalancing effect.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School, including Benjamin Shapero, believe meditation and mindfulness can fill treatment gaps for people who don’t respond to medications.
Moreover, researchers are increasingly convinced that performing simple meditative exercises daily can help patients rework their brain functionality in a way that supports healthier and more stable mindsets throughout the day.
By learning to focus on their body’s internal rhythms, including thought processes, many people accumulate the skills and presence of mind required to keep negativity and self-abusive thought patterns comfortably at bay.
6. Work Toward Becoming Sociable Again
Most of the advice you’ll come across about battling depression will include the reminder that we’re not at our best when we’re alone.
It’s important not to hole up in your house or apartment when you’re in the grips of depression. It might feel like being alone is all you want right now and all that will give you peace. However, there are more routes to happiness than you may want to believe in right now.
Never underestimate the power of fellowship with others — even strangers. It can be just a companionable, understanding silence between two longtime friends. For the time being, it’s important to learn again how to want to need, and be needed by, others.
7. Know the Resources Available to You
Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice for veterans with depression is to simply familiarize yourself with the support structures already in place for you.
A good first step is to register a free account with the VA. This opens the doors for veterans who believe they may benefit from professional care for their depression or anxiety disorder.
TeleHealth is still a relatively new phenomenon in the health care space. Nevertheless, it’s already an important part of the VA’s toolkit for reaching veterans who have trouble traveling to appointments or who live in an area without convenient access to a physician’s location. You don’t have to let isolation, or perceived isolation, hold you back.
If you don’t know how to get started, you can also get immediate help from the VA by calling 1-877-222-VETS. They’ll get you pointed in the right direction.
You Have What You Need
Mental health disorders, including depression, are all around us. It affects overworked professionals and students. It tackles NFL footballers after too many concussive blows and soldiers returning from the field with difficulties readjusting to familiar patterns. Now that you know more about it, depression doesn’t have to be something you endure in silence.
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