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Kevlar for the Mind: Don't ignore these symptoms

Jul. 18, 2013 - 06:20PM   |  
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Q. Iíve been onboard my ship for several months and lately find myself waking up two or three times a night, and itís hard to fall back to sleep. During my years of service in the Navy, Iíve never had problems sleeping after deployments or mobilizations. I have been taking an over-the-counter sleep aid, but when I wake up, Iím exhausted. Could this mean that Iím depressed?

A. Sleep disturbance is only one possible sign of depression.

Depression is a collection of symptoms. The two most specific are feelings of depression or sadness most days of the week and loss of pleasure or interest in all or most daily activities. Other symptoms include changes in weight or appetite, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, decreased concentration and, in more serious cases, suicidal thoughts.

Sleep difficulties, particularly waking up throughout the night, can be related to issues such as an uncomfortable bed, noisy bunk mate, or even changes in sunlight during the day.

Increased periods of emotional and physical stress also can disrupt sleep. For example, arguing with a spouse or running five miles on the treadmill right before bed are surefire ways to prevent restful sleep.

Over-the-counter medications are intended for short-term use; chronic use can lead to even more sleep difficulties. Itís always best to talk with your assigned health care provider about effective treatments for sleep problems and if you think you may be suffering from depression.

Q. I have had bad dreams at least once a week. Does this mean I have post-traumatic stress? I did have a few close calls in Afghanistan.

A. Post-traumatic stress is a complex psychiatric condition that many service members are at risk of developing downrange. Individuals exposed to a traumatic event may develop symptoms such as avoidance of things that remind them of the event, withdrawal from loved ones, difficulty controlling their anger and recurrent, distressing images or memories of the event.

Disturbing dreams, which are fairly common, are only one possible sign of PTSD. The best way to determine whether you have PTSD is to seek the help of a mental health professional.

Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. E-mail him at This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

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