Dealing with Depression: Symptoms and Treatment
Depression is a common psychological concern that can affect anyone, anywhere at any time – whether or not you are a service member or veteran. Depression is not just a passing feeling of being down in the dumps, it’s not a sign of weakness and it’s not something you can just “snap out of” whenever you feel like it. It is a medical condition that can be treated and managed, just like any other; but the first step to getting effective treatment is speaking openly and honestly with a health care provider about the symptoms you are experiencing.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a genuine medical condition that can affect service members’ and veterans’ thoughts, behaviors, feelings and even physical health. It may affect different people in different ways; one person’s symptoms may be more severe, occur more frequently or last longer than another’s. Generally speaking, if you experience one or more of the following symptoms over two weeks, you should consider speaking with a health care provider to determine if you are experiencing some form of depression:1
- Feeling sad or down in the dumps
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Lacking energy or feeling tired all the time
- Feeling restless
- Having difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Having extreme fluctuations in appetite
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Having problems concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Having thoughts of death or hurting yourself
Just as the symptoms of depression can be unique to each individual, the causes of depression are varied as well, including:1
- Biological – The amount of a certain kind of chemical in your brain, called neurotransmitters, can fluctuate; when this happens people may have too much (or not enough) of them, which can cause depression. In addition, women are twice as likely to experience some form of depression during their lives as men, which may be due to a variety of factors, including hormonal changes, inherited traits, life experiences and other biological factors.
- Cognitive – When people show signs of low self-esteem, pessimism, feeling out of control of their lives and worrying too much, they can be more likely to develop depression.
- Other physical or psychological issues – People who experience physical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes may be more likely to develop clinical depression. In addition, people who experience psychological issues such as anxiety disorders and eating disorders may also experience depression.
- Substance misuse – Often times, alcohol and some drugs can act as depressants and mimic the symptoms of depression. This is also why it is not advised to use these substances if you are depressed.
- Combat experience
- Stressful situations such as bankruptcy or sickness
- The loss of a friend or loved one
- Absence from loved ones
- Moving to a new home, neighborhood, state or country
- Prolonged tension in relationships
- Having a child
- Starting or ending a romantic relationship
How to Get Help
Depression is treatable and early intervention and care can help avoid or minimize its negative effects. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, speak with a care provider early to get the best treatment. Here’s how you can reach out:
- Chat with a professional health resource consultant 24/7 through Real Warriors Live Chat
- Find health care providers at a military treatment facility, in the TRICARE network, or out of the network using TRICARE’s provider locator
- Call the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 at 866-966-1020 to speak with a professional health resource consultant
Getting help will empower you to perform better at your job, live a happier life and maintain positive relationships with those around you. When you’re feeling your best, you’ll be best able to support your fellow service members and the mission.
- Tell someone immediately
- Talk openly and take what they say seriously and without judgment
- Call someone for help
- Dial 800-273-8255 and press 1 for the Military Crisis Line
Take An Active Role In Your Treatment
If you have begun treatment for depression, there are a variety of ways you can contribute to the healing process. These include:1
- Participate in physical exercise – Physical activity can improve your mood and help you sleep better.
- Eat healthy, nutritious meals – Eating balanced meals can help you feel better physically as well as psychologically. For tips on what to eat, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov website and My HealtheVet’s healthy eating guidelines.
- Develop healthy sleeping behaviors – Getting enough quality sleep can help you feel better. For tips on improving sleep, check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “In Brief: Your Guide to Healthy Sleep,” [PDF 231KB], and the Real Warriors Campaign article, “Developing Healthy Sleeping Habits While Deployed.”
- Practice relaxation techniques – Stress-reducing activities like taking a shower, deep breathing or finding a quite place to collect your thoughts can help you feel at ease.
- Avoid misusing alcohol and drugs – Alcohol is a depressant and can contribute to feelings of depression as well as interfere with your medications.
- Put off making major decisions – It may not be possible to avoid making major decisions while experiencing symptoms of depression, but try to postpone them until you are feeling better or are thinking more clearly. If you must make a major decision, ask your care provider or someone you trust to help you.
- Set small goals and pace yourself – To avoid feeling overwhelmed by current situations, try reducing your tasks into smaller steps to make things more manageable. Developing a list of small tasks can help you accomplish bigger tasks and give you a sense of achievement.
- You Are Not Alone: Suicide Prevention Tools for Warriors
- Depression Overview, Programs & Services
- Depression Causes, Symptoms, Questions
- Military Pathways self-assessment tool
- afterdeployment.org depression workshop
- VA Depression Screener
- afterdeployment.org depression guide
1 “Depression: What You Need To Know,” Major Depressive Disorder Toolkit, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Published February 2011.
2 “Depression,” National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Sep. 7, 2012.
3 "Depression," afterdeployment.org. Last accessed Sep. 7, 2012.