What Your Patients are Hearing

Report criticizes VA’s suicide prevention efforts; author shares depression-fighting strategies


The suicide rate among veterans is almost double that of the general American population. It has been rising among those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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“At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, [the Department of Veterans Affairs] should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” Rep. Tim Walz, the Minnesota Democrat who requested the investigation, reportedly said in a statement. “Unfortunately, VA failed to do that.”

Mr. Walz was referring to a failure in prevention efforts that was detailed in a Government Accountability Office report released recently and was the subject of an article in the New York Times. The report blames bureaucratic confusion and an absence of leadership – epitomized by several department vacancies.

“This is such an important issue; we need to be throwing everything we can at it,” said Caitin Thompson, PhD. She was director of the VA’s suicide prevention efforts but resigned in frustration in mid-2017. “It’s so ludicrous that money would be sitting on the table. Outreach is one of the first ways to engage with veterans and families about ways to get help. If we don’t have that, what do we have?”

Surviving the holidays with depression

The postcard image of the Christmas season is that of joyous celebration with family and friends. For many people, however, this image is false. Many complain about feelings of stress imposed by familial obligations, pressure to conform to those postcard myths, and the financial toll that all of that holiday largesse can exact.

Now add depression to this mix. How can those burdened by depression find some joy at this time of year? In a recent article in the Huffington Post, author Andrea Loewen advises staying away from social media and focusing on the positive.

“[Social media] is a double-edged sword: Either I see all the amazing things everyone else is doing and feel jealous/insignificant/left out, or I see that no one else is really posting and assume they must be too busy having incredible quality time with their families while I’m the unengaged loser scrolling Instagram,” Ms. Loewen wrote. “Either way, it’s bad news.”

One concrete practice that she engages in is taking a few minutes to think about and write down the positive things that happened each day.

“The list includes everything, big and small: from the thoughtful gift I wasn’t expecting to the simple observation that a friend seemed happy to see me,” Ms. Loewen wrote. “Depending on where I’m at in my depression, those seemingly tiny details can be vital reminders I hold a valuable place in the world.”

Artist perpetuates persistent myth

In some ways, Kanye West embraces his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He calls the illness his “superpower,” and the art on his new album, “Ye,” includes the phrase: “I hate being Bi-Polar/it’s awesome.” But his decision to abandon his medications promotes a myth, Amanda Mull wrote in an opinion piece in the Atlantic.

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