This Veteran’s Day we’re kicking off a new series called “Heroes for Hope” where we’ll profile incredible people and organizations helping shine a light of hope for the more than 350 million people around the world living with depression.
According to a study reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that compared the medical records of veterans from 2000-2007, one in three patients was diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder. The suicide risk factors for U.S. veterans with depression differs in significant ways from those of the general population. Specifically, the risk for suicide generally increases with age, but in the veteran population, younger veterans are at the most risk.
Building communities of support for our veterans is an important piece of helping them recover. NAMI suggests that providing a group where veterans can find others who are living a similar experience can lead to better outcomes.
So to kick off our new “Heroes for Hope” series, we talked to one group that is working hard to build these communities for veterans and their families.
Hope For The Warriors was founded by military families in 2006 as they witnessed, firsthand, the effects war imparts on service members and their families. The organization provides comprehensive support programs for service members, veterans, and military families that are focused on transition, health and wellness, peer engagement, and connections to community resources.
We spoke with Hope’s co-founder, Robin Kelleher, and Stephen Siwulec, who served in the U.S. Army from 2003-2008 with deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, about some of the mental health issues facing our military families, finding HOPE on a daily basis, and how a simple “hi” could help a veteran this Veteran’s Day.
What are some of the biggest challenges our military families face with regards to depression and PTSD?[RK] One of the biggest challenges is, in fact, the way that one family member experiencing symptoms of depression and PTSD affects an entire family. Although an individual family member experienced the trauma, PTSD symptoms can ripple outward and affect the entire family unit. We often see other family members presenting with symptoms of secondary traumatization, depression, and anxiety.
Another significant challenge for military families is convincing the veteran to seek his/her own mental health care. There are many concerns for the service member when deciding to seek out care for their depression or PTSD symptoms. These barriers to care include: financial impact, time constraints, the possibility of losing clearances or employment and the military cultural perspective of mental health care.
How do the military families you work with who are living with depression or PTSD find hope?[RK] We often see how community and peer-to-peer support can improve symptoms of depression and PTSD. The service members appreciate the supportive camaraderie they find in a group of other service members who have had similar experiences and can understand the challenges that they have faced with transitioning back home after their deployment ended or adapting to the challenges presented by an injury.
Service members’ involvement in recreational activities have been found to provide them with an increase in confidence and competence, which tends to reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD and depression.
Service members often appreciate the opportunity to get back to experiencing joy or satisfaction when reengaging in activities that they had enjoyed before the injury or traumatic event. Arts – music, visual arts, artisan work— have been found to be very beneficial to service members recovering from traumatic events. Participation in the creative arts allows the service members to access and process experiences and emotions in a different way and can allow an opening for creating new narratives, creative exploration and sharing the experience in a safe, protected way.
Stephen, tell us a little about your service/deployments.[SS] I made some great friends and new brothers and sisters. My service wasn’t an easy one but it was a fun and enjoyable. Best thing I can take away from being deployed to Afghanistan was helping escort the ballots and also protecting the polling sites for Afghanistan’s first ever election.
This column is about stories of people living with depression and how they find HOPE. What is your personal connection to depression or personal experience with depression?[SS] My personal connection with depression and PTSD happened when I transitioned out of the military to civilian life. I was so lost and didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so used to having a set schedule and knowing what to do and having my battle buddies from left to right.
So for a while I just went along with everything just keeping to myself, not really caring what was happening. I would just go to work and then come home. I would even shut my family and my childhood friends out and not want to go do anything.
But when I got accepted into college I started to climb out of that dark hole that I felt that I was in and I found a niche at school. I started a veteran’s club, which to me made me feel that I was back in the military. I was helping out my fellow vets by providing a place to come hang out and not be judged.
I still on occasion get depressed, especially around triggers, but I know that I have hope at the end of the tunnel and it guides me back out of the depression.
What are some of the biggest challenges our military families face with regards to depression and PTSD?[SS] In my opinion some of the biggest challenges are that they don’t know the warning signs or what the triggers are that can set a veteran or service member off into a depression or a defensive. The veteran or service member shuts them out because they don’t understand what we went through. A family member might look good on the outside but can be living with depression on the inside because we are taught in the military to not show emotion.
What gives you hope on a daily basis?[SS] What gives me hope on a daily basis is knowing that when I wake up I have a loving wife and family that is there to support me. Also, having goals that Hope For The Warriors helped me come up with and wanting to achieve them.
What do you think is important for people to understand about living with depression or caring for someone living with depression?[SS] That there is hope at the end of the tunnel. I know that it may not seem like you can get out of that dark hole and be happy but there is. You have to find something that you enjoy and continue to do it.
Let others in that you trust to help you and to talk. And don’t be afraid to get help and don’t be afraid if you need to let your emotions out. Don’t bottle them up. I know without the team I wouldn’t have the outlook I do today.
What advice would you give to other people who might be taking care of someone living with depression?[SS] For people who are caring for someone with depression I would not push them too much. I would let them know that you are there for them if they need a shoulder to cry on or to even talk. Also, don’t get mad if they do something a little wrong or if they shut you out right away.
It will take time to be able for them to open up. If they decide to cry or show emotion don’t judge them on that or anything that they tell you. They might be fine for years and then all of sudden it can come back and might not last long or might last longer so just be patient with your family member because it can come back in waves.
How can people support our veteran families?[SS] If you recognize a veteran you can thank him or her for their service or just sit down and spark up a conversation. Or even say, “Hi, Happy Veteran’s Day!”
You never know, a simple “hi” and “how’s your day going” could save that veteran’s life that day and make them feel that they aren’t forgotten.
This post originally appeared on iFred.org.
Editor’s Note: This article and series provides general information and discussion about mental health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this article, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor immediately. The views expressed in this article have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the authors are affiliated.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help in the U.S., call the line for hope to talk to someone live in your local area. They can listen to you and direct you to local resources if further assistance is needed. If someone has talked to you about suicide, and you believe they are currently a threat to themselves or someone else but won’t take your help, call 911.
(800)273-8255 …..1-800-273-TALK National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(877)838-2838 …..1-877-Vet2Vet Veterans Peer Support Line
(800)784-2432 …..1-800-SUICIDA Spanish Speaking Suicide Hotline
(877)968-8454 …..1-877-YOUTHLINE Teen to Teen Peer Counseling Hotline
(800)472-3457 …..1-800-GRADHLP Grad Student Hotline
(800)773-6667 …..1-800-PPD-MOMS Post partum depression hotline
To learn more, visit iFred.org.
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