Meridian Star

November 9, 2013

Hotline offers help, hope for veterans

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     At a time when the U.S. celebrates its veterans, some veterans may be withdrawing from their families and friends. To honor the sacrifice of veterans and their families, a movement is under way to reach out to those who suffer from the not so obvious war injuries of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Gayle Wicker, wife of Sen. Roger Wicker, (R) Miss., is among those leading the charge to let veterans know that they needn't suffer in silence.

    "We're trying to focus and emphasize on this Veteran's Day that help and treatment are available," Mrs. Wicker said in a telephone interview on Friday. "We're trying to encourage our communities to remember and honor our veterans."

    A counselor by profession, Wicker knows how important it is for those suffering from depression to seek help. Some 28,000 Mississippians have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001, she said.

    "We don't want their service to be forgotten," WIcker said. "We want them to know that there is help and a help line."

    A Veteran's Administration help line for veterans suffering from PTSD and depression is available at no charge, she said. Those in need may call 1-800--273-TALK. Its website is veteranscrisisline.net.

    Wicker said her father and her husband's father both served in World War II. Her husband served in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserve; her son is in the U.S. Air Force.

    "I have a heart for those who are veterans and those who are serving," she said.

    Her work to reach veterans with a message of hope is part of an effort of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Wicker said while people around a depressed person are well-meaning, often that is not enough.

    "It's wonderful to have friends and family who listen and are understanding, but it's tough on the family too," she said. "It really takes qualified health care professionals to know how to counsel people who are going through this."

    According to the Veterans Crisis Line website, there are several signs among veterans who may be considering suicide. They often show signs of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or hopelessness, such as:

    * Appearing sad or depressed most of the time

    * Clinical depression: deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating—that doesn’t go away or continues to get worse

    * Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep

    * Neglecting personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance

    * Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, or sleeping all the time

    * Losing interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things one used to care about

    * Frequent and dramatic mood changes

    * Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame

    * Feelings of failure or decreased performance

    * Feeling that life is not worth living, having no sense of purpose in life

    * Talk about feeling trapped—like there is no way out of a situation

    * Having feelings of desperation, and saying that there’s no solution to their problems

Their behavior may be dramatically different from their normal behavior, or they may appear to be actively contemplating or preparing for a suicidal act through behaviors such as:

    * Performing poorly at work or school

    * Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities—seemingly without thinking

    * Showing violent behavior such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights or self-destructive violence; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge

    * Looking as though one has a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights

    * Giving away prized possessions

    * Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will

    * Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming oneself.

    Wicker said family and friends should be vigilant if symptoms occur.

    "If anybody talks about death or killing themselves," she said. "You cannot overlook that as a warning sign."