As the holidays approach, people generally look forward to spending time with family and friends, taking a few days off of work, and just enjoying the season. Unfortunately for some Service Members and their Families, the holiday season is nothing more than a reminder of how they will miss these very opportunities. Distance from extended family, stress over finances, and the general monotony of life can be difficult to handle this time of year. Depression can set in which can lead to risky behaviors such as substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.
Depression is one of the most common and treatable mental disorders, according to Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Service Members and their Families experience unique emotional challenges. Deployment and redeployment, single parenting and long absences of loved ones are a stressful part of military life.
Here at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin, our unique mission of continuous training can be just as stressful as a regular deployment. Add to that the remoteness of our location and the sudden slow-down in operational tempo (due to multiple White Weeks in conjunction with Opportunity Leave) and it is easy to understand why some may be feeling bored and looking for “something to do” to take their minds off their troubles.
While holiday gatherings and events are excellent ways to get into the spirit of the season, they can also be an “excuse” for those who are hurting. For some it may become an opportunity to “drown their sorrows” in alcohol, or engage in other risky behavior. It is up to each of us to watch for warning signs that may signal depression in our family, friends and even ourselves. Headaches, overeating, changes in personal hygiene, difficulty sleeping, and excessive drinking are common signs of holiday depression. Marked increases in argumentative or violent behaviors or conversely, sadness or withdrawal are also indicators that someone may be depressed.
The NTC and Fort Irwin has multiple resources available for those who may be suffering from the holiday blues. Weed Army Behavioral Health Services has providers that can assist those dealing with depression. Clinic hours are Monday – Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., and walk-in services are available. You can also call 380-3631 for appointments. Patients can call 911 after hours or anytime, for help. The NTC Army Substance Abuse Program is open 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and 1 – 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays. All after hours emergencies should proceed directly to the Weed Army Emergency Department. Support services are also available through Military Family Life Consultants and Chaplain Services. Specific contact points for MFLC can be found at http://www.irwin.army.mil/Community/Pages/MilitaryFamilyLifeConsultants.aspx. The NTC and Fort Irwin Chaplain services can be reached at 380-3562.
Keep in mind that your Battle Buddy is also a good resource. Battle buddies know you better than most and are should be available 24/7. As a Battle Buddy, know your buddy and watch for warning signs. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Remember “ACE” – Ask, Care, Escort.
If you suspect that someone you know may be suffering from holiday depression, even if that person is you, do not wait. Reach out, make contact. Emotional pain is real but the support you need is available. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather, a sign of strength.