Overcoming the stigma of depression, achieving emotional resilience
October 24, 2013
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - The unexpected pressure of everyday life is often challenging and at times becomes overwhelming. Resiliency is the mental, physical, emotional and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, adapt to change, recover, learn and grow from setbacks. Although there are many tools available to assist Soldiers, Family members and civilian employees with an occasional attitude adjustment, they are often afraid, ashamed or just unaware of who to talk to or how to access assistance.
October is National Depression Awareness Month, with the theme "The courage to seek help."
Chaplain (Maj.) Dwight Broedel, supervisor, Family Life Counseling Center on Fort Wainwright, compared negotiating through times of depression to teaching or learning map-reading. He said, "Depression is a low point surrounded on all sides by high ground. Simply put, depressions are low spots along the path of life which are great places for [mental] ambushes. Folks can easily get bogged down in the goo that tends to collect there and occasionally have difficulty getting out on their own."
Without reaching for a helping hand or a life-line, a person can get stuck or even buried in the quagmire of desolation. The thought of being at the bottom, realizing there is the hope of someday ascending out of the dismal low place up to a place of joyful delight, but not being able to do it alone can cause one to slip deeper in despair. "Family Life Chaplains are trail guides or pathfinders through the swampy times of life," Broedel said. "Since we must all travel through wild-places and deep valleys of sorrow [to complete our mission], wouldn't you rather go through it with someone who knows the way across?"
The Army is calling on commanders and leaders to inform Soldiers, Family members and civilian personnel that depression is treatable and help decrease the stigma associated with seeking treatment.
"Our emotional health needs care just as our physical health does," said Col. Dennis LeMaster, commander, Medical Department Activity Alaska. "Neglecting either aspect of wellness detracts from overall health. Life is hard and there is no shame in reaching out for help. We are staffed to provide that care and MEDDAC-AK stands ready to meet the behavioral health needs of our community."
There are several aspects to the stigma that Soldiers face. The first is a personal or internal perception that most service members feel. When they seek out help and admit there is a problem, they feel that they are seen as weak or inadequate in some way.
Capt. Lois Colwell, acting chief of Behavioral Health, MEDDAC-AK said, "The stigma generally comes from the command and varies greatly from one unit to the other. Those with commands that are not supportive generally have more problems asking for help."
For Soldiers who are hesitant to contact Behavioral Health there are other first steps they can take such as their chaplain, unit ministry team, their battle buddy or MFLCs.
"We continue to try to diminish the stereotype of mental health issues by providing Healing the Whole Person Seminars monthly," said Chaplain (Capt.) Father John Brocato. "They focus on wounds that exist in the individual heart, whether real or perceived. As we all know, throughout our lives we pick up hurts that can fundamentally change our disposition as we relate to others." He said several battalion and company commanders have attended the seminars allowing them to see the "big picture of why we do what we do." Along with the academic book knowledge, attendees are given an opportunity to "pray through some of the pain that holds an individual in chains."
Society as a whole, including the military, has been trying to raise awareness regarding depression and encourage Soldiers and other people to seek help. This begins by reducing the stigma associated with depression, so people will feel more comfortable about seeking help.
There are several aspects to the stigma that Soldiers face. The first is a personal or internal perception that most service members feel. When they seek out help and admit there is a problem, they feel that they are seen as weak or inadequate in some way. Colwell said everyone should be aware of these signs by, "Watching those around us for either a major increase or decrease in the amount of sleep, loss of interest in activities that once gave them pleasure, changes in appetite, increased irritability and hopelessness."
In addition to the Family Life Center and Chaplains, Fort Wainwright has "Outpatient care for active duty on a one-on-one basis," said Brandy Ostanik, public affairs specialist, MEDDAC-AK, "Most commonly seen stress is related to work, home, family and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
Colwell said, "In addition to on-site counseling we have video teleconference capabilities with psychologists out of Tripler Medical Center. This increases access to care, and some like this option because it is more comfortable for them. We also have a traumatic brain injury clinic to offer evaluations and neuropsychological testing, and a family advocacy program."
They will also see Family members for individual counseling and couples for marital counseling, she said. "Commands can also request Behavioral Health staff to come to their unit to discuss various topics. Seasonal Affective Disorder and sleep hygiene are the most requested topics, with difficulty sleeping being the number one complaint of Soldiers."
The programs for the overall stress-management goal toward achieving resiliency through those experiencing difficult periods in life is to increase the number of clients who maintain healthy stress levels. Health and spiritual professionals agree that when people have a stress response, it causes things that happen in their bodies.
"Most folks don't need drugs or alcohol to find their way. That would be like knowing you are lost and deciding to run in circles screaming. Turning to liquor as a way to escape is surest way to stay lost," Broedel said.
Broedel said there are many other ways to reduce stress and battle depression. "No Soldier walks alone unless they have chosen to exclude others. Soldiering is a team effort." Depression is something that affects more than two-in-ten people in their lifetime and pride, ego, shame, arrogance or fear is the hurdle that must be cleared by "oneself" on the road to conquering depression. "Over, under, around or just straight through it, [is how we roll] real Soldiers don't get defeated by obstacles, we call up the combat engineers who create lanes-of-passage," Broedel said, "So ask yourself, who is the combat engineer for spiritual-emotional obstacles?"
For more information call the Family Life Center at 353-6112 or contact Behavioral Health at 361-6059.