Responders and their family members can suffer from symptoms of depression. While people often use the word "depressed" as a slang term for feeling "sad" or "down," depression is really a physical and psychological illness that impacts a person's functioning over weeks, months, or even years.

As we have found in our work with Oklahoma City and 9/11 responders, critical incidents and disasters can trigger symptoms of depression in responders and their family members. Some individuals experienced symptoms of depression right after the incident. Others began to experience symptoms long after the event occurred – when feelings experienced as a result of the incident started to weigh on the responder, their co-workers, and family. The "aftermath" period, which can last for years after a traumatic incident, is a time to pay extra attention to how your coworkers and loved ones are acting.

If you or someone close to you is experiencing signs of depression, it is important to seek assistance. Depression can be successfully treated. The first step of asking for help is often the most difficult step to take. Tips for getting help with depression include the following:

Signs of Depression

Below are some signs of depression. Anyone who has been experiencing at least five of the following symptoms for two or more weeks may be suffering from depression.

Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including work and family. Feeling sad or blue.
Difficulty remembering, concentrating or making decisions. Feeling worthless or hopeless; extreme guilt. Has a negative outlook on life.
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much. Lack of energy. Feels tired all the time. Lack of sex drive or sexual difficulties.
Persistent headaches, chronic pain or digestive problems. Restless or irritable. Overly worried or anxious.
Changes in appetite and/or weight (gain or loss). Anger or sadness at the loss of a friend or loved one that doesn't lessen over time.
Change in work performance or style (missing deadlines, calling in sick, decreased involvement with coworkers) Thoughts of suicide or death
  1. Start by finding a person you trust (such as a counselor or peer counselor, member of the clergy, family doctor, etc.) and explain the depression signs you are experiencing. The person you speak to may be able to help or they may encourage you to go to a counselor who specializes in treating depression.
  2. Departmental resources are available to assist with depression, as well as other health problems you may be having. Non-departmental resources may be available as well. If you decide to use a provider outside of your department, be sure to find out what services are available and whether or not your medical insurance covers the cost for treatment.
  3. For many people, confidentiality is important. Feel free to ask any counselor about their confidentiality policy and the services they offer.
  4. Ask for educational materials about depression and its treatment, or learn more about depression on-line. (put a link to some websites here).
  5. Understand that with time and the right treatment, you will feel better. There are reasons to hope for positive outcomes!