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Depression—Don’t tackle it alone

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Depression isn’t just a lousy mood—it’s a serious illness that needs serious help. Check out some of the special resources for service members, whether it’s for you, a buddy, or a family member.

We’ve all heard of depression. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s easy to think that someone could just snap out of it if they wanted to. Depression doesn’t work like that. It can have an impact on a person in every way—physically, mentally, and emotionally, even extending to relationships—and can range from mild to severe. According to the American Psychological Association, “Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.” Depression is an illness considered to be treatable with professional help.

This factsheet from afterdeployment.org details the signs and symptoms of depression. They also have an anonymous online assessment, general information, personal stories shared by those who’ve experienced depression, an interactive workbook that can help you challenge negative thoughts and identify depression triggers, and information about the link between behaviors and mood. Also take a look at the factsheet on Taking Charge of Depression, which includes helpful strategies.

For more information about depression or other mental states that can influence your performance, check out the section of HPRC’s website on depression. However, if you feel you are in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line—someone is available 24/7 for online chat or via phone at 1-800-273-TALK.

Cope with emotions through mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you to face hard emotions instead of running from them. Learn how here.

Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune into emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. People can feel overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems, which, ironically, can be exacerbated by trying to forget the cause. For example, a Warfighter afflicted with PTSD often relives difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or unwanted memories, because he/she desperately wants to avoid experiencing those events. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more.

Practicing mindfulness mediation means focusing on whatever you are experiencing in the present moment. It can be a structured meditation activity, but because mindfulness is about being present, you can purposefully engage in mindfulness anytime, anywhere. A common meditative approach is to focus on a physical experience such as your breathing, noticing where your attention wanders, and gently guiding it back to your breath; it allows you to experience sadness, anger, fear, and other unpleasant emotions, letting them pass without clinging to the idea of making them go away.”

If you have ever “white-knuckled” your way through an amusement park ride (or ridden in a car with a driver you didn’t trust), you may remember thinking, “When will this be over? Please let it be over…” This shows that focusing on how long something lasts can make it feel like an eternity. By engaging in mindfulness, you will feel less threatened by certain emotions, and you will be less likely to engage in problematic forms of escape (such as drinking, drugs, or simply spacing out).

When people experience difficult emotions, they often cope by engaging the language center of the brain, using words internally to wrestle with the experience. But when people have difficulty re-evaluating why they feel the way they do, this leads to a circular internal debate (such as “I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do, but I shouldn’t…”), which can be pointless and can actually cause more distress. Emotions can be dealt with not just through words but also by tapping into their physical elements (noticing how you feel in your body). When people engage in regular mindfulness practice, the parts of their brains tuned into physical sensations are activated while they experience hard emotions. And people who regularly have this part of their brain activated tend to be more emotionally steady.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to escape unwanted emotions. And more problems will probably pop up as you try to escape. But if you’re willing to face hard emotions, letting them come and go like waves on a beach, then mindfulness practice can help you have a different experience. Tune in to HPRC for more mindfulness resources, and take advantage of the fact that mindfulness is everywhere now, whether part of your martial arts or yoga class or filling the self-help shelves of your local bookstore. Become more mindful, and you can feel better equipped to handle tough emotions; your mind and body will engage them more productively.

Keep the happy in holidays: Be aware of depression in those around you

If you or a loved one is feeling less than joyful this holiday season, reach out and get help.

Continuing HPRC’s series on keeping the happy in the holidays, last week we “focused on the positive.” This week, learn what the signs of depression are, and make sure you know how everyone in your family is doing.

Depression is not something that you can just snap out of. It can impact a person in many ways and can range from mild to severe. According to the American Psychological Association, “Depression is more than just sadness.” Symptoms can range from lack of interest to thoughts of suicide, so learn what to watch for. Check out this factsheet that details the signs and symptoms of depression and another on “Taking Charge of Depression” that includes helpful strategies. Depression is treatable with professional help; don’t isolate yourself and don’t let others do so.

For more information on depression, check out the suicide prevention section of HPRC’s website.

TBI Pocket Guide from DCoE

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Traumatic brain injury can be a serious invisible injury. The DCoE provides helpful information about symptoms and treatment.

You’ve probably heard of TBI—the acronym for traumatic brain injury. The Defense Centers of Excellence defines a traumatic brain injury as “a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain.” TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, with 80-90% being mild. The symptoms, treatments, and recovery time are different for mild versus moderate-to-severe TBIs.

Common symptoms associated with TBI are:

Physical: headache, sleep disturbances, dizziness, balance problems, nausea/vomiting, fatigue, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, ringing in the ears

Cognitive: slowed thinking, poor concentration, memory problems, difficulty finding words

Emotional: anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings

For more information, including strategies and suggestions for rehabilitation, check out DCoE’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Pocket Guide for Warfighters. TBI is a serious physical as well as mental injury, so it is important to consult a health professional before attempting any kind of treatment.

Leveraging mindfulness as a performance-optimization tool

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Practicing mindfulness can improve performance by reducing stress and increasing well-being.

PsychCentral’s March 2012 "Ask the Therapist" article addresses how mindfulness relates to military performance—especially important now that the military has been incorporating mindfulness tactics for enhancing Warfighter mental and physical resilience. Of particular note is a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology that demonstrated significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, depression, etc. in veterans after completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The article also noted other studies that showed long-term stress-reduction, well-being, and positive experiences. Simply put, acknowledging emotional pain helps you overcome it. You are then able to focus and communicate with loved ones more effectively.

If you’d like to learn more about meditation and mindfulness, check out the Mind Tactics section of the HPRC website, which contains many resources related to meditation and mindfulness, as well as resources related to mental fitness, mental toughness, and resilience.

Recognizing signs of distress in children

Parents play a crucial role in helping children cope with deployment. Learning to recognize signs of distress can help prevent depression in children.

During deployment, the parent at home plays a pivotal role in providing support for their children. Recognizing signs of deployment-related stress allows you to intervene and prevent future concerns. In young children, signs include unexplained crying, sleep difficulties, eating difficulties, and fear of new people or situations. In adolescents, signs include acting out, misdirected anger, and loss of interest in hobbies. For more signs of distress, read this Military.com article.

Tips for helping children cope with deployment

HPRC recommends three ways to help provide youth with support during deployment.

Follow these tips to help your child cope with a parent’s deployment:

1)    Increase your knowledge/awareness of deployment-related issues.

    • Understand the various ways in which a family is affected by deployment.
    • Understand the stages of the deployment cycle.
    • Find ways to improve public awareness of the need for support within communities.

      2)    Increase your knowledge of and vigilance for depression and stress symptoms:

        • Learn to recognize signs and symptoms of depression and other mental health concerns.
        • Understand common emotional phases in children and teenagers during times of deployment.

          3)    Increase opportunities for connection and support:

            • Show concern for your child. Many teens will refuse to express their concern over a deployment but will often respond to concern shown for them.
            • Help kids form networks with peers who have gone through or are going through a parent’s deployment.
            • Provide opportunities for activities to keep children distracted.

              For more information and resources on how to support children and teens during deployment, visit the HPRC’s family skills section.

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