After a traumatic car accident, Tech Sgt. Ashley Barnett suffered from chronic back pain which led to depression. After recovering, Barnett said she felt it was important to share her experiences and let others know there are resources available to aid the recovery process. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin)
Today is National Depression Screening Day. If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, visit Military Pathways to take a free, anonymous, online self-assessment for common mental health conditions such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. These conditions are treatable, and a self-assessment is not only easy but can be the first step you take toward getting the help you need. Learn more about depression and its symptoms from the below blog post we’re revisiting by Dr. James Bender.
Depression has been referred to as “both the common cold and cancer of health care.” It’s like the common cold in that it can affect anyone at any time (depression affects approximately 14.8 million American adults annually). It’s like cancer because it can be deadly. Take, for example, someone who is clinically depressed and commits suicide. Depression also increases the chances of someone experiencing a heart attack.
A lot has been written on the subject of depression and its treatments. What’s not often written about is the fact that depression, whether it’s mild or severe, inhibits both physical and mental performance (yet, service members and veterans are too often reluctant to seek help). If you want to avoid or minimize the negative impacts of depression on your performance, seek effective treatment and adopt healthy habits.
Symptoms of depression can be organized into three different categories: cognitive, affective and physiological. In other words, depression can affect our thinking, mood and body. And, depending on the severity and form of depression (major depression, dysthymia, seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder), individuals may not all experience the same symptoms. See the chart below for specific symptoms.
It’s not hard to imagine how the symptoms listed above could give you trouble in a military environment. I had one patient who shot better on the rifle range after being treated for depression (his overall concentration improved after treatment, letting him focus better at the range).
It’s also not hard to imagine how depression could adversely affect your family life. Picture a person gradually getting irritable and more withdrawn, not wanting to play with the kids, forgetting to do household chores and just lying around the couch all weekend. Would you want to share a life with someone like that, especially if they used to be fun-loving and thoughtful?
The reality is that not all people with depression have a depressed mood. It can occur in ways you may not have thought of. Some people (especially men) feel irritable or angry instead of sad or worthless. I’ve diagnosed people with depression and they didn’t even know they were depressed (“Doc, I get mad at my wife all the time. I can’t concentrate, I sleep all day and my PT scores went down, but I’m not depressed!”).
If you’re hesitant to reach out for help, review these myths about depression. Treating it will make you a better service member and a better family member. What if you know someone who is depressed? Then you are probably already aware that it affects you, too. So, help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You can start by sharing a link to Military Pathways to take an anonymous depression screening.