By Wesley Elliott
The U.S. Army understands the tremendous impact on readiness that untreated depression causes and Army medical professionals are available to support those suffering with depression and their loved ones.
“Depression is not a symptom of weakness; it is a treatable condition and if left untreated can not only reduce the quality of life, it can reduce longevity,” said Lt. Col. Samuel Preston, Psychiatry Consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General.
Depression is more prevalent than people believe, and by educating yourself regarding depression during National Depression Awareness Month in October, you could save a job, improve someone’s health and wellness or possibly preserve life.
“Depression is not simply feeling in a down or sullen mood, nor is it simply a reaction to day-to-day stress, though stress may contribute. Depression is a major public health concern associated with increased functional disability and early death,” said Preston.
According to Preston, there are several disease surveillance studies assessing the negative impact of depression. A commonly cited study in 2010 determined the estimated annual economic consequences of depression, including direct medical costs and workplace costs, exceeded $200 billion.
During a 12-month period of time, approximately 6 percent of individuals in the U.S. will experience a depressive episode.
“Depression takes many forms, but the two fundamental symptoms associated with depression include a change in mood and loss of interest in activities which previously brought joy,” said Preston. “Other symptoms of depression may include loss of energy, poor concentration, unintentional weight fluctuation or changes in appetite, excessive feelings of guilt, feeling generally heavy or sluggish, and thoughts of death or suicide.”
Anxiety is closely related to depression and people with depression may experience increases in their anxiety levels. Males also tend to display irritability as a presenting symptom of depression.
Preston noted that the U.S. Army is tremendously supportive of behavioral health assessment, treatment, and early intervention.
Early intervention improves readiness, and the U.S. Army has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve resilience, combat suicide and expand behavioral health services for Army communities.
For those who think they may be suffering from depression, Preston recommends they seek professional guidance as soon as a concern arises. The earlier the condition is identified and treated, the earlier symptoms resolve with reduced severity.
“The key is understanding depression may take many forms, and if you are concerned personally or for another, it is important to refer to medical or behavioral health professionals to assist,” stated Preston.
“There are times when individuals know they need an intervention to gain health and wellness but for personal reasons decide not to engage services. Depression is especially tricky because lack of motivation and energy are common symptoms. Therefore, individuals who would normally seek services for an issue may not because while depressed they lost the motivation, desire, or energy to change.”
Preston recommends non-judgmental support for depressed people unwilling to engage in therapy. Because depression has a high correlation with other medical conditions, concentration on the associated medical condition (diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain) with less stigma is one approach. If the affected individual is able to make the connection between physical ailments and mental health, the person may seek help on their own.
“However, if the individual verbalizes suicidal thoughts with an intent or plan, this should be treated as a medical emergency. As long as you are safe, do not leave the person alone, escort the person to assistance, and if they are unwilling or unable to engage emergency medical services, call 9-1-1,” said Preston. “Treat suicidal ideation with a verbalized plan and intent as you would chest pain or loss of vision. Do not delay access to emergency services.”
Family members who need support can contact the Military Family Life Consultant, available through Army Community Service, for general counseling and advice, and use the Military One Source at www.militaryonesource.mil. The site provides confidential telephonic and online resources for Military Families in need.
Chaplains are also available for non-medical, concerned care and support for those who are unsure if behavioral health services are appropriate and act as a resource to guide those in need.
There are several causes of depression, including stress, bereavement, pain, sleep apnea, anemia, thyroid disorders, medication side effects, and genetic factors, and since there are so many causes and contributing factors, it is important to discuss changes in mood, energy or motivation with a medical professional.
There are several options for treating depression and your medical care provider can help you select treatments best fitted to you and your severity of depression.
(Editor’s note: Information provided by the Army News Service.)