During the Holidays, people are encouraged to be merry. But for many, the opposite occurs and depression or other mental health issues rise to the surface. This is especially so for may veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. WBFO spoke with a psychologist at the VA Western New York Healthcare System to get a reminder of the warning signs and find out how best to help.
The VA was one of numerous guests invited to set up displays at a recent Veterans Stand Down, a one-day centralized information and service-providing event open to veterans. Dr. Veayla Williams, staff psychologist with the VA, stood by to provide advice on mental health services provided by she and her colleagues. With snow falling outside that morning, thoughts turned to the upcoming Christmas holiday and the likelihood of many veterans finding it difficult to get into the spirit of the season.
Dr. Williams explained that many PTSD patients experience an increasing struggle at this time of year because it coincides with some of what resulted in their condition.
"Unfortunately, some of the traumas might have happened in this time of the year. In addition to that, they might have lost comrades that they might think about during this time of the year," she said. "Unfortunately around this time of the year, there's a peak in depression, a peak in suicidal behaviors. That's the most important time to seek support from providers or even from your family members."
Among the signs a veteran may be enduring PTSD is avoidance, Dr. Williams explained. Other signs include anger or irritability. He or she may also experience nightmares about the trauma and many of the memories, Dr. Williams adds, are intrusive.
Depression is also a sign and, in severe cases, could lead the veteran to consider self-harm or suicide. In 2012, the VA released a report suggesting 22 veterans take their own lives daily. Earlier this year, the military publication Stars and Stripes reported that the number may be closer to 17 veterans and three active servicemembers daily.
Regardless of the numbers one may trust, it still amounts to thousand of suicides per year. The warning signs that an individual may be pondering suicide include expressions of hopelessness, isolation, giving away possessions, even an outright statement of not wanting to live further.
"You can call the Veterans Crisis Line, which is 800-273-TALK and you press 1. They can also give you more information to let you know if you should be concerned," Dr. Williams said.