As the holiday season approaches, members of the Fort Bragg community look forward to taking trips and celebrating with Family and friends.
Then there are others who are unable to be with Family members and will instead endure a period of loneliness and depression throughout the holidays and well into the month of February.
Historically, February is the month when the Army has seen an increase in the number of suicides committed by servicemembers, according to a published Army report.
“During the holidays, the suicide rate is not as high as it gets after the holidays,” explained Emilee Owens, former Fort Bragg Suicide Prevention Program manager in a Paraglide story, which ran in December 2010. “Statistically, February is actually the highest month for suicides. During the holiday, there’s usually a lot going on, lots of parties and Family and friends are around, so it’s not a big issue during this time.”
Officials at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center said there are signs and symptoms that will indicate if a person is suffering from depression.
“While depression is not always easy to spot, there are a few things to be on the lookout for,” explained Dr. Eric Rogers, who works at Womack’s Behavioral Health Department. “The signs and symptoms of depression may include sadness, loss of interest in things once enjoyed, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, restlessness, withdrawing from friends and Family or trouble concentrating or making decisions.”
Rogers said depression may also produce body aches and pains, irritability, anxiety, over- eating or loss of appetite or thoughts of suicide or death.
He pointed out that depression can be a serious health problem if is goes untreated.
“If a Soldier is concerned that they are depressed, there are several options available to them. They can call the Department of Behavioral Health located on 6 North in Womack Army Medical Center at 907-6825 or the Womack Division Behavioral Health Service at 907-9486 to schedule an appointment. Soldiers can also contact Military OneSource and receive up to 12 sessions of short-term, problem-solving, and solution-focused counseling at no cost to them.”
Rogers also provided some tips for overcoming depression during the holidays.
“The holiday season for most people is a fun time of the year filled with parties, celebrations and social gatherings with Family and friends. However, for some, it is also a time filled with sadness, self-evaluation, and loneliness. For those who are not looking forward to the upcoming holiday season, here are several suggestions to help you through them.”
• Often depression leads to decreased energy and decreased motivation. For this reason it is important to stay as active as possible. While the weather outside may be cold, this is not the time to neglect your exercise routine. It is important to stay active and get some form of physical activity on a daily basis. Exercise not only improves your health, but your mood as well.
• If at all possible, try not to spend the holidays alone. If being with Family is not an option for whatever reason, try spending the holidays with friends.
• The holidays are associated with many things, one of which is alcohol. Very simply, alcohol is a depressant. It may appear to relieve the pain for a little while, but in the long run it can complicate or worsen symptoms of depression.
In lieu of this, the Army and particularly, Fort Bragg has many agencies that are available to Soldiers who may be in need of counseling.
Earlier this month, the post held a roundtable discussion on suicide prevention, which is often the end result of chronic depression.
The roundtable panel included: Chaplain (Col.) Ran Dolinger, the Fort Bragg Garrison chaplain; Col. Jay E. Earles, Womack Army Medical Center’s chief of behavioral health; Lt. Col. Michael Baumeister, 82nd Sustainment Brigade deputy commander; Master Sgt. Eric W. Brooks, the non-commissioned officer in charge of G-3 training of United States Army Special Operations Command and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Trainer; and Whitney Brenner, the Fort Bragg health promotion officer.
Brenner explained that Fort Bragg has many agencies ready to assist Soldiers who may be contemplating suicide.
“There are many programs on Fort Bragg, as well as across the country, provided for those who want to seek help,” said Brenner. “This includes the Military OneSource, military life consultants who are anonymous, behavioral health care, as well as chaplains.”
Community members can access Military OneSource by logging on to www.militaryonesource.mil.
The site provides various forms of assistance to address issues such as financial counseling, health and wellness coaching, face-to-face counseling and online counseling.
Soldiers at Fort Bragg may also contact military Family life consultants, who come under the post’s Army Community Service office.
According to the Fort Bragg Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation website, the program is designed to provide anonymous, confidential support to Soldiers and their Family members, especially those returning from deployments. Units that return from deployment may request military Family life consultants through Army Community Service.
The program serves active duty and mobilized National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers and their Families.
The website also explained that the MFL consultants provide post deployment training and informal consulting support to Soldiers and Families to supplement the services provided by the community; address reunion/reintegration concerns that service or Family members may have; and liaison with military and local resources.
Military Family life consultants keep no records and are available at time and place designated by the unit. Services are free and confidential.
Fort Bragg residents may also contact the Watters Center, but it is recommended that Soldiers contact their unit chaplain as a first option.
Military Pathways is a mental health screening program that will allow servicemembers and Family members to assess their own concerns so that they are able to seek assistance if they feel they are dealing with issues such as alcohol abuse and mental health concerns.
The program is available over the phone, online and at numerous special events
According to a previously published report, the primary goals of the program are to reduce stigma, raise awareness about mental health and connect those in need with available resources.
The self-assessments address depression, post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol use and bipolar disorder. After an individual completes a self-assessment he or she is provided with referral information including services provided through the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.