What is depression?
Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy? Do you avoid being around people, or are you irritated by everyone you are around? Are you feeling intensely sad, down on yourself, or hopeless? If you’re experiencing any of these feelings, it could be depression.
Everyone experiences sadness, irritability, or low energy from time to time, but these feelings usually pass. Depression is different from these occasional feelings. If you have depression, it can be hard to do everyday activities, and you may have problems that cause your relationships to suffer. You might focus on what’s not going well in your life and have trouble seeing the positive. Perhaps you don’t feel pleasure in the activities, people, and things you used to enjoy.
“I stopped exercising altogether, stopped being social and going out with my friends, even missed an entire week of school because I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I knew something was up, but at the time I just thought I was in a funk.”
Some Veterans experience depression because of the loss of someone close to them, like a loved one or a buddy from their unit. Others might feel depressed after losing or changing jobs. When this sadness lasts for more than a few weeks or is seriously impacting your life, it may be a sign of depression.
Depression is a common but serious problem that affects people in different ways. It affects not only your mood but also your body, actions, and thoughts. Depression can interfere with daily life and usual functioning.
Depression can affect anyone — young and old, men and women, of all ethnic groups and all walks of life. Stressful situations or traumatic events that sometimes occur in military life might be associated with depression in Veterans and Service members. Life events that may cause stress include:
- Death of a friend or family member
- Traumatic events such as combat, injury, natural disasters, or physical or sexual abuse
- Health problems or disabilities
- Transitioning to civilian life after military service
- Preparing for deployment
- Relationship problems or divorce
- Birth of a child
- Changing jobs, difficult work situations, or losing a job
- Financial problems
Fortunately, there are effective treatments and resources for dealing with depression. No matter what stressors you may experience or where the depression may have come from, it’s important to seek treatment.
What are the signs of depression?
The signs and symptoms of depression may be hard to notice at first. One way to tell if what you’re experiencing might need attention is to consider if your thoughts, moods, or behaviors have changed noticeably. Is your mood different than “usual” for you? Have others noticed a difference?
“Over there, I never had the time, energy, or free will to even begin to deal with some of the emotions I was bottling up. A few months after I got back was a different story, though. I was finally having to deal with all the issues I’d stored away”
For some people, these symptoms may not be something new. It might seem as if you have always felt down and blue.
Two common symptoms of depression are:
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Losing interest in or not getting pleasure from most of your daily activities
If you experience either of these symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks, you may be depressed.
Not everyone with depression has the same symptoms or feels the same way. One person might have difficulty sitting still, while another may find it hard to get out of bed each day. Other symptoms that may be signs of depression or may go along with being depressed include:
- Gaining or losing weight
- Eating more or less than usual almost every day
- Sleeping too much or not enough almost every day
- Feeling restless and unable to sit still
- Feeling that moving takes great effort
- Feeling tired or as if you have no energy almost every day
- Feeling unworthy or guilty nearly every day
- Having low self-esteem or feeling down on yourself
- Finding it hard to focus, remember things, or make decisions nearly every day
- Feeling anxious, worried, or nervous
- Drinking more alcohol or caffeine
- Taking more of a prescription or over-the-counter medication than is directed
- Smoking or using tobacco more often
Having thoughts of suicide, thinking that others would be better off without you, and believing that there is no other way out of your problems are very serious symptoms of depression and need immediate attention. It’s important you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of death or suicide. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. You can also use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
What is the treatment for depression?
Depression is a highly treatable condition, and there are things you can do to recover if you are depressed. A number of effective treatments can lead to positive and meaningful changes in symptoms and quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of Veterans have gotten help for depression.
Treatments for depression can involve counseling, therapy, medication, or a combination of these. Therapy and counseling can help you learn new ways of thinking, practice positive behaviors, and take active steps to cope with your symptoms. Antidepressant medications work in different ways to affect the chemicals in your brain that may be associated with being depressed. You may need to work with your doctor or counselor and try different types of treatment before finding the one that fits best with your preferences, symptoms, and challenges.
“I wasn’t a big fan of pills, or therapists for that matter. But I got to the point where anything was worth a shot. Now that I got the treatment I needed and see how much better every day looks, I wish I would have gone in sooner.”
In addition to getting treatment, you can adjust your lifestyle to help relieve depression symptoms. Try to work these into your daily routine:
- Walk, jog, or work out. Physical activity can improve your mood and help you sleep better.
- Eat healthy meals regularly. Good nutrition helps your body and your mind.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep. Getting quality sleep can help you feel better.
- Practice relaxation or grounding techniques. A shower, deep breathing, or time in a quiet place to collect your thoughts can help relieve stress and get you through difficult moments.
What can I do if I think I might be depressed?
Your close friends and family may be the first to notice you’re having a tough time. Turn to them when you are ready to talk. It can be helpful to share what you’re experiencing, and they may be able to provide support and help you find treatment that is right for you.
You can also take a confidential and anonymous self-assessment to help you find out if your feelings and behaviors may be related to depression. This short list of questions won’t be able to tell you for sure whether you have depression, but it may indicate whether it’s a good idea to see a professional for further assessment.
Take the next step: Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for depression and find solutions that improve their lives. It can be difficult to handle depression on your own, so talking to your family and friends can be a first step. You can also consider connecting with:
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage loss of interest or pleasure even without direct experience with Veterans.
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
- A spiritual or religious adviser
Explore these resources for more information about depression in Veterans.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to depression, such as chronic pain, trouble sleeping, relationship problems, retirement and aging and posttraumatic stress.
Take an online workshop with interactive exercises to evaluate the symptoms you are experiencing and hear from other Veterans and Service members dealing with depression.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
This support organization for people with bipolar and depression offers tools, information, and peer-based support.
NAMI Veterans Resource Center
The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides resources for helping Veterans and Service members find solutions for mental health issues that may be affecting them.
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.