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The first step is the hardest

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- It started with an assignment I wasn't too keen on taking. We all have them, where we have already been there, done that and wanted something else. I knew the assignment would be difficult since I recently retrained into a different career field. I hadn't expected or been told before arriving that I would be a 3-level NCO in a job I was just learning. But it happens, we all work through it and adapt as needed.

My husband at the time deployed within six months of moving to our new duty location, leaving me alone with our 1-year-old child. This is the stuff they tell us can happen as military couples who have children. No problem, I am a modern woman: I can bring home the bacon, cook it and feed it to my family, then wash all the dishes, bathe the baby and write enlisted performance reports all night.

Then, I couldn't sleep at night. I would sometimes get only 10 hours of sleep for the entire week. It wasn't an upset baby keeping me up, just an inability to sleep no matter what I tried. So, I decided to be productive with my insomnia and would bake the work center cakes and cookies or even breakfast muffins, all from scratch, because what else is there to do at 2 a.m.?

I started coming to work late and getting appropriately counseled. Then I started losing weight, no matter what I ate. I could eat a double cheeseburger, a large-sized onion rings and a large strawberry shake for lunch and dinner, yet I still lost 30 pounds in just three weeks. I wasn't throwing it up, heavens no, I love food! I was living off of take out, junk food, coffee and lots of candy. How could this be happening?

I didn't know it at the time, but I learned I had some classic symptoms of depression. Symptoms can include depressed mood, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness, sleep disturbances, appetite and weight changes, difficulty concentrating, and lack of energy and fatigue.

According to the National Mental Health Association, approximately 12 million women in the U.S. experience clinical depression every year. About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression in her lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to develop depression.

Social and cultural causes can stem from many aspects. The more roles that a woman is expected to play -- wife, mother, working woman, etc. -- the more susceptible she is to "role strain" and its association with stress and depression. Women who receive little help at home or are single mothers are more likely to experience depression.

I remember the first time that someone genuinely asked how I was, because they were concerned about me. Me. Someone actually wanted to know what was going on and wanted to help. And it wasn't my supervisors, my peers or my commander. It was my own Airman, who cared enough and noticed that something was wrong and helped me get the help that I desperately needed.

With the help and support of my friend, I was able to find the strength to go to the mental health clinic and receive the help I needed. I was one of the more than 60 percent of service members who, according to the American Psychiatric Association, think seeking help for mental health issues would have at least some negative impact on their career. This isn't so.

Mental health disorders have a biological basis and can be treated like any other health condition.

As military members, we have been briefed many times on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone who is in need of mental health assistance. For someone who truly needs help, the first step to wellness is the hardest step there is. Acknowledging your problem is not a weakness, but a step made with incredible strength.