Experts explain early warning signs of mental health problems

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Martha Ekhoff once suffered from mental illness.

"I had depression severe enough that I was on disability," she said.

Now Ekhoff teaches mental health first aid classes with Optum Idaho, helping people understand mental illness at a time when a new generation of mostly young veterans is returning from multiple deployments during more than a decade of war.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says 20 percent of the men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or related mental problems, and they're returning to a society where experts say people don't fully understand mental health problems, and often see it as a stigma.

The Army says the Iraq veteran who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas Wednesday was being treated for depression and anxiety.

While his motivations remain unclear, we wondered what early warning signs might indicate a person is slipping into some form of mental illness.

"Staying in bed, blanket over the head, not getting up, not talking to anybody," said Ekhoff.

"Sleeplessness, overeating, undereating," said Peter Ashenden also with Optum Idaho. "Major changes in a person's usual routine. That's a warning sign."

But it's a mistake to simply assume just because somebody served in, say, Vietnam or Iraq and Afghanistan, they've got clouds of mental problems.

In truth, they may actually see life with a clarity many of us will never know.