My friend the television producer confessed that she, too, was feeling down and depressed. She said that everyone she had talked to during the last few days was telling her the same thing: They were depressed. A businesswoman I know said people aren't paying their bills. It's as though everything has come to a standstill.
If there is any good news, it is that if you are feeling tired, depressed, irritable and unenthusiastic about doing much of anything, you are not alone, and it is because of the war.
And if you are having trouble trying to help your children cope with the impact of the Persian Gulf War, you are not alone, either.
Marge Lenane, a psychotherapist and researcher in the child psychiatry branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, has 15 adult patients. "Across the board, they are experiencing some mood changes. And amazingly they are not all that able to identify what that is. But everyone is coming in with statements like, 'I don't feel that well, and I don't think it's the war, but I'm feeling kind of down' and they grasp at other things going on in their life for a reason why they feel depressed.
"There's a difference if you have sons in the age range for the draft, if there is a draft. My sons are 25 and 22 and I can get upset real easily just thinking about the possibility. A couple of my patients have family members who are in the service and it's easier for them to say 'my brother-in-law is over in the Middle East and of course I'm depressed.' "
She thinks that people who don't have a relative at risk are more reluctant to make the connection between their depression and the war because "it's hard for them to say it impacts on them personally to the extent that it does. Yes, we know there's a war and if we wake up at 3 a.m. we turn on the TV. But another part of us wants to deny the reality and say that it's far away and not going to touch us."
But the reality is that the war is touching us in deeply emotional ways that are showing up in such symptoms as changes in sleep patterns and diminished energy levels. "The things that usually make people happy and excited are less likely to do that." Lenane said. "There's sort of a pallor over everything. Some people have a change in eating patterns, but I don't think that's nearly as common as the sleep and energy change. I think people are having a harder time doing what they usually do, whether that's working outside the home or working inside the home. There's a decrease in enthusiasm for going to work.
"I think there's an increase in irritability, and I think that's more likely to happen in people who are not recognizing the impact that the war is having on them. They just know they feel out of sorts. If a person can say, 'I feel sad, depressed and worried,' they are less likely to be irritable and snappish. I think it's important for people to try to acknowledge this is a big worry for them and to talk with other people. Then they get validation for their feelings and then they don't feel alone and strange. It diminishes the anxiety and the depression."
Barbara Bush has urged parents to talk to their children about their feelings about the war, but as any parent knows, talking to children about feelings is not always easy, particularly if they are adolescents, the group most likely to be affected.
Josephine Elia, a child psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health, advises asking children open-ended questions such as "What has he heard? What does he think is going on?" And she said different children will react differently. "We do have a lot of children with parents or relatives over there. They are going to be much more curious about what is going on and what it means for them. For other children it might not be so real."
Lenane said parents are inclined to start conversations by asking a child, "Are you upset about what's happening in the Middle East?" She advises, instead, starting with: " 'I've really been feeling pretty sad and upset and I don't have as much energy as I usually do and it may be related to the Middle East.' I think if we first share with our children how it is impacting on us it gives them permission to share what is happening to them. With children who haven't experienced war, they don't know how to identify it. If we are seeing adult patients who can't identify their change in mood with what is going on in the Middle East, it's not reasonable to expect that a child can."
And, she said, if a child first reacts by expressing a feeling of powerlessness -- such as saying, "What I feel won't make any difference to what happens" -- it is very important to acknowledge that feeling, but not to dwell on it. "It's very scary when we feel powerless over significant things that are going on in our life."