JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- --
One year ago, March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. The world shut down as people lost loved ones, became separated from their families, workplaces and friends with no idea when the nightmare would be over.
The effects of this pandemic affect us all in different ways. Many of us have felt alone and isolated while dealing with new fears and stressors. According to the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. adults are reporting considerably more adverse mental health conditions during the pandemic. While these feelings are new for some, others were facing mental health challenges even before the pandemic. One AFDW team member shares their experience with mental health struggles and their journey to regain health.
Marie (a pseudonym used for privacy) recounted in an interview some of the struggles that led to her considering leaving her family, friends and the world behind to take her own life.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. for people over the age of 10, and suicide deaths have continued to uptick in recent years.
According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, each year, some 40,000 people in the United States commit suicide, which is 24% higher than in it was in 1999 and accounts for 9,000 more lives lost per year than those killed in car accidents annually.
Marie described her strategy of hiding her feelings from everyone – even her husband – by “playing a role” of wellness and stability. However, alone at night, she’d experience pain and feelings of isolation associated with depression that built up over the course of several years.
Marie shared an excerpt from a poem she wrote which illustrates her emotions as she endured her mental health challenges.
You see me, you don’t see me
You see who I want you to see, you see who I want to be
Sometimes tears fall silently.
The façade is exhausting, the double life impossible to maintain.
Can you see the pleading in my masked eyes? Can you hear my painful silent cries?
The Department of Defense recognizes the role loneliness and isolation plays in depression, and designed its “Connect to Protect” campaign to emphasize the power of staying connected, which can have a big impact on reducing someone’s feelings of loneliness.
Despite her success in hiding her pain, Marie said there were cracks in her behavioral façade. Co-workers would notice her short temper and agitation at work – signs consistent with depression.
Marie made the choice to seek help and began her journey to recovery and resiliency with the help of her family, friends and faith.
And now, she can face herself again thanks to myriad resources among her family, friends and the chaplaincy.
Like many other Americans, Marie occasionally feels depression seep back in, but now she has the tools to recognize and acknowledge the warning signs.
Her faith, she explained, is central to her resiliency approach and she finds strength and solace in prayer. “Even if there are some people who are not religious and don’t believe in any kind of higher being, I hope they believe their fingerprints are unique,” Marie said. “I hope they realize there’s some cause, some purpose, some person you’re supposed to reach.”
Marie is also a big believer in the power of positivity, which she focuses on when feeling down. Simple ideas like looking at photos of children, getting outside in nature, or exercise, are all tools she uses to stay strong and resilient.
Today, she pays it forward to others who may be suffering mental health crises by sharing her journey to recovery, talking about her resiliency strategies and pointing toward resources and helping agencies.
If you are struggling with mental health, you are not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on all facets of our society, but there are resources and helping agencies who care about you and want to help. Don’t be afraid, reach out and ask for help.
AF Resilience: https://www.resilience.af.mil
DoD SAPRO: https://www.sapr.mil
Air National Guard Prevention: https://www.ang.af.mil/prevention
Military OneSource: https://www.militaryonesource.mil
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