They call it the most wonderful time of the year, but for those dealing with addiction and depression, the holidays can feel overwhelming. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates over 120 suicides per day with veterans accounting for approximately 20-22 of those lives lost.
Veterans and those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder seem to be particularly hit hard with suicide and drug overdoses. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention, 18 percent of all American adult suicides in 2014 were committed by veterans. Another report from the Inspector General in 2015 found that more than 300,000 veterans likely died while waiting for VA health care, including some who committed suicide as they waited for mental health services for conditions like depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These startling facts highlight the work needed to be done to educate veterans and civilians alike on the different types of depression and mental health issues and what types of treatments are available.
What is depression?
Everyone feels down on occasion, but when your feelings of sadness, anger or frustration prevent you from enjoying life as you once did, it’s possible you’re suffering from depression. And if you suffer from depression, you’re not alone; depression affects about 18 million Americans each year.
Depression isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ disease. The types and causes can be different for each individual.
Here are some of the common forms of depression:
Major depression: A person must be depressed for at least two weeks, but often for as long as 20 weeks.
Dysthymia: A long-lasting, less severe form of depression. Symptoms are like those of major depression but more mild. People with dysthymia have an greater risk of major depression.
Atypical depression: Unlike those with major depression, people with atypical depression can feel better for a period of time when something good happens. In addition, people with atypical depression have different symptoms than those with major depression. Despite its name, atypical depression may be the most common type of depression.
Postpartum depression: About 10 percent of mothers may have depression after giving birth
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD) : Women with PDD have symptoms one week before getting their period. Symptoms go away after their period.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) : A kind of depression that is seasonal and happens when there is less sunlight. It starts during fall-winter and disappears during spring-summer.
Bipolar disorder: People with bipolar disorder have moods that swing from depression to mania. Also called manic-depressive disorder.
Adjustment disorder: Happens when someone’s response to a major life event, such as the death of a loved one, causes symptoms of depression.
Adjustment disorder can also happen when someone suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD usually follows life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.
While many symptoms of depression overlap with the symptoms of PTSD, people with PTSD usually experience different kinds of symptoms such as:
- Reliving the trauma in some way such as becoming upset when confronted with a reminder of the event or consuming thoughts about the trauma when doing other activities.
- Isolation, or staying away from people and places that remind them of the trauma.
- Feelings of anxiety, irritability, and paranoia.
PTSD is complicated by the fact that people who suffer from the disorder often develop additional disorders such as substance abuse, memory problems and other mental health problems.
While it’s possible to experience situational or short-term depression, most experts agree that depression is a mental illness that requires ongoing, long-term treatment. Whatever the cause of your depression, it can certainly feel worse during the holidays.
The holiday-depression link
Even if you’ve never been treated for depression, it’s possible still to experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness during the holiday season. In fact, the season itself makes it even more likely you might feel this way. The holidays are known as a time for spending time with family and friends, and if you have a very small (or nonexistent) social circle or a difficult family situation, it’s easy — and normal — to feel lonely and sad. Viewing celebrations of friends, neighbors or associates on social media can exacerbate these feelings of isolation, causing you to withdraw even more. Unfortunately, withdrawal only makes these feelings of loneliness and depression worse.
Holidays and suicide
The idea that suicides happen more often during the holiday season is a myth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That said, anyone suffering from depression or mental illness is at a greater risk for suicide, and it’s critical to get help any time you experience suicidal thoughts or actions — or any time you suspect these in a loved one.
Suicidal behaviors tend to occur during times or situations that feel overwhelming to the victim. These could include unemployment, the death of a loved one, illness or a crippling addiction. If you or a loved one experiences these feelings, it’s imperative to seek help immediately.
Spending another holiday season feeling isolated, depressed and lonely probably seems overwhelming. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to. Depression is a treatable illness, and that means resources are available to help you feel better now. Here are a few lifestyle changes to include in your daily routine.
- Getting enough sleep, regular exercise and eating a balanced, healthy diet may help prevent depression and reduce symptoms.
- Practicing mind-body techniques, such as biofeedback, meditation, and tai chi, may help prevent or reduce symptoms of depression.
- Seeking therapy and learning new coping skills may help prevent relapse.
Often, those suffering from depression avoid treatment due to feelings of shame or embarrassment. But the stigma surrounding mental health is no reason to continue suffering. There are many outpatient programs and support groups to help ease the pain.
Dealing with depression affects the whole family. Making healthy lifestyle changes and seeking professional help for the right kind of treatment is the greatest gift you can give yourself and those around you. There is hope and Copper Springs is here to help.