Depression among veterans can escalate during holiday season

Dec 22, 2017

For many, the holiday season brings depression and, in more severe cases, thoughts of suicide. This includes many veterans who, upon returning home from overseas tours, may be struggling to process their experiences as they a time of year that's expected to be festive. A professional who works in mental health with the Department Veterans Affairs in Buffalo offers pointers for recognizing when a veteran may be in need of help.

There are many similarities among veterans and non-veterans in the symptoms of depression but veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may show some of their own warning signs.

Credit WBFO file image/Dept. of Veterans Affairs

"There's sometimes during the holiday season more pressure to be social and to be out in large groups of people," said Joan Chipps, manager of the Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic at the VA Western New York Healthcare System. "Sometimes people who have issued with PTSD are very uncomfortable in large gatherings."

Often times, it may be well-intentioned remarks by family or friends that instead drive away the veteran. Chipp says when a veteran has returned from active duty, one thing you should not ask him or her is "so, how was it over there?"

"A lot of the way we communicate with our veterans in the community can go a long way with helping them feel calmer and more accepted and more able to be in different situations," she said. "Talking about their home life and being back, and how good it feels to see them, can be better ways to start a conversation than getting directly into 'hey, what happened to you over there?'" 

The warning signs that a depressed veteran may be pondering suicide are similar to those displayed by non-veterans but the triggers that contribute to the problem may differ. An increase in alcohol or drug use is one of the warning signs. So, too are outbursts of emotion.

"It can bring out a lot of reactions that have people scratching their heads, that can push people away because they don't know how to respond to it," Chipps told WBFO. "A lot of times the veteran is not comfortable talking about their experiences or they don't know how to talk about their experiences."

Veterans in need of assistance, or their loved ones, may contact the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Locally, veterans or loved ones may also call Crisis Services at 834-3131.