What is depression? 

Depression is one of the most common mood disorders that veterans and serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members experience. 
This is not usually caused by one thing. We know that an individual may be vulnerable to depression if there is a history of mental illness in the family, and we also know that certain thinking styles (e.g., overstressing the negative) are also associated with depression. 
However, just because an individual may have a vulnerability to depression does not mean they will develop depression. Life in the military brings with it several challenges which may place people at greater risk of developing depression.

Factors such as being away from loved ones, deployment to highly stressful areas, combat, isolation from friends and colleagues, frequent changes to schedules and locations and the diagnosis of another mental health condition can place an individual at more risk.  In particular, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has many of the same risk factors as depression and is in itself a risk factor for developing depression. Depression also commonly occurs with Traumatic Brain Injuries, substance use and suicidal thinking.

Veterans face additional risks when transitioning from the ADF, from practical issues such as housing, employment, medical and financial issues, to managing mental health symptoms, learning to function in a less regimented environment, adjusting to being a civilian and being away from the team environment that the ADF fosters.

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness most of the day, nearly every day
  • Significant loss of interest or pleasure in all, or most activities most of the day, nearly every day
  • Significant unintentional weight loss or weight gain 
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Restlessness or slowed responses nearly every day
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • A sense of worthlessness
  • Excessive inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty with concentration and decision making
  • Thoughts of death, suicidal thinking, suicide attempt
  • Social isolation and withdrawal.

Managing symptoms of depression 

  • Having a regular routine and sticking to it 
  • Connecting with others, preferably face to face
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Minimising your alcohol and substance use
  • Maintaining good grooming and ensuring you leave the house most if not all days
  • Talking to people you trust about how you are feeling
  • Becoming informed about depression and your symptoms by reading evidence-based information (websites and books)
  • Taking medication as prescribed
  • Learning to recognise and challenge your negative thinking
  • Pacing yourself. Recovering from depression is a process that takes time
  • Talking to a professional.

Where to get help

If you’re a veteran or family member who is experiencing symptoms of depression, or have been diagnosed and need support, reach out to Mates4Mates on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) for a confidential chat.

Alternatively, talk to a trusted General Practitioner about your health concerns or for 24-hour crisis-support phone Open Arms on 1800 011 046. If it’s an emergency, phone 000. 

Other helpful resources