Joining the Military to Beat Depression: A vet finds her way back from suicidal depression

Joining the Military to Beat Depression: A vet finds her way back from suicidal depression, by Denise Ranaghan

Originally Posted Feb 14, 2018 on Psychology Today

On the psychiatric ward I didn’t get out of bed for weeks except to pee. The bathroom had two entrances, one from my room and one from the room of the two male veterans on the other side. It stunk of stale urine. I didn’t eat the meals served. I didn’t attend the community meetings. I didn’t respond when the psychiatrist came in and threatened to give me electric shock treatments if I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t give a hoot about the female veteran who shared the room with me and was in bed almost as much as I was. I did notice that at least she ate. I didn’t talk to Alberta, the nurse’s aide who stood by my bedside every morning and told me I would have to get up some time. Alberta was right about that.

The afternoon came when I did raise my frail and weakened body from the hospital bed and trudge down the hall.  The floors under my hospital issued foam slippers seemed very hard and cold, the lights in the hallway seemed very bright and the walls along the corridors seemed very white. Sounds of voices in the distance penetrated my eardrums as if they were coming from a loudspeaker above my head.  I reached the TV room and with my slow and delayed steps shuffled over the threshold. Some guys with cigarettes hanging off their lips were playing pool and the first few times the pool stick hit the cue ball my body jolted.  Nurses’ aides were huddled in a corner chattering about their personal lives: “You can’t let that boy get away with that sista he ain’t never gonna learn his lesson he need a daddy to whip him into shape and if he ain’t got no daddy he ain’t gonna know how to be no daddy.…” An unshaven veteran sat hunched over on a plastic folding chair, covering his ears with the palms of his hands and tapping his fingertips on the sides of his head. Every once in a while, he would stand up straight, shake his fists in the air over his head, and proudly exclaim, “Oh yes I did. You bet your ass I did!” then sit back down, cover his ears and start tapping again.

That visit to the psychiatric ward was the result my third suicide attempt in the one year…

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About the author: Denise Ranaghan is the Director of Peer Services at NYAPRS.  She is a veteran who served in the Army from 1986-1989. In 1992, while an inpatient at the NYS Psychiatric Institute, Denise returned to school through the Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Program. She earned an Ed.M. in Psychological Counseling at Teachers College, Columbia University. Later, she pursued a license in Mental Health Counseling.

Denise served as a Peer Specialist on the MHA ACT team from 2008-2012. In 2012 she took the position of Director of Wellness Services at the MHA where she served until returning to the ACT team as Team Leader in 2016. She has held multiple positions in the mental health system including Residential Counselor, Residential Manager, Employment Specialist, and Coordinator for an Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment program. In 2018, Denise took the position as Director of Peer Services at NYAPRS. Denise says, “As oppressive and frustrating as organizations and institutions can be, I have benefitted from them and want to work to make them better. I have met some phenomenal, loving people who have helped me access resources along the way. I love the bumper sticker that says, ‘I don’t care what you know ‘til I know that you care.’”


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