Depression

What is depression?

Take Action: Use Problem Solving to help work through problems contributing to depression

If you’re worried about a particular problem or situation you find yourself in, this tool can help you work though the problem and find solutions.

Use the Problem Solving tool to brainstorm different solutions to a problem and decide on the best solution.

When you’re starting out, use the tool to solve a relatively easy problem. Once you’ve learned the skills you can start to apply the problem solving steps to all sorts of situations as they arise in your day to day life.

People often refer to themselves as being depressed, but that can be different from the depression that health professionals talk about. The mental health condition called depression is an almost constant state of low mood and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable. Life becomes flat and grey, and nothing seems fun, exciting, or enjoyable anymore. In more severe cases, the person may believe that life is no longer worth living. Common symptoms of depression are:

  • Feeling low, down in the dumps, miserable
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness
  • Lack of energy, easily tired test
  • Lack of enthusiasm, difficulties with motivation
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in normal activities
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Poor concentration, memory, and decision making
  • Thoughts of suicide and/or death.

Need urgent help?

Why do I feel this way?

There are many situations that can trigger depression, including loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a traumatic event, and relationship difficulties. But most of the time depression isn’t caused by just one thing. A history of depression in the family, chronic physical health problems, lack of social support and major life events can make it more likely that someone will develop depression, but it doesn’t mean they definitely will.

Sometimes people shift between periods of depression and periods of heightened energy and euphoria. Does this sound like you? If so, read more about bipolar disorder.

You’re not alone

Depression is common in Australia, and approximately 1 in 9 Australian adults will experience depression at some stage in their life[1]. It’s also common in veterans and serving members. For example, depressive disorders affect around a quarter of Vietnam veterans [2], a third of Gulf war veterans [3], and one in five current serving members [4]. Depression is a very distressing and disabling condition which is a risk factor for suicide. Left untreated, periods of depression tend to last longer and happen more often, so it’s important to get help.

Feelings of guilt

A lot of people with depression suffer from strong feelings of guilt. For example, after deployment, you might feel guilty that you survived while others did not; it might be about what you had to do to survive; it might be related to things you did in a combat situation that conflict with your values. Sometimes you can feel guilty because you’re trying to apply civilian or peacetime standards to a combat situation, but the nature of military operations means that sometimes those standards aren’t a fair comparison and there’s no acceptable or ‘good’ option. For some veterans, these guilty feelings can be very damaging and can get in the way of recovery.

Some veterans develop depression because they find that combat or other military experiences shatter their idea of the world being a fair and safe place. It may take time to come to terms with these difficult experiences.

What treatments can help?

Effective treatments for depression are available. Most people will respond reasonably quickly to psychological therapy for depression, which is frequently combined with anti-depressant medication to help manage the negative feelings and other symptoms of depression.

One of the most effective treatments for depression is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This approach recognises that the way we think and act affects the way we feel. With the help of a therapist or counsellor, you will learn:

  • a step-by-step approach to problem solving to help you manage day to day challenges.
  • how to challenge your negative thinking, so you can get a more balanced and helpful view of yourself, other people, and situations.
  • strategies to help you get back to your routine and enjoying your usual activities.

Another effective psychological intervention for depression is interpersonal therapy (IPT). This approach aims to help you understand how interactions with other people can contribute to or worsen depression, and learn new ways of relating to people.

Where do I get help?

  • A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome depression, as he or she can make referrals for specialists, and support your efforts with medications if necessary.
  • This website has information on a range of professional care that is available to current and former serving members.

Need urgent help?

Self-help resources

Below is a list of internet and other written resources that may also help you as you undergo the treatment recommended by your doctor. The High Res website offers a range of interactive tools and self-help resources that help serving and ex-serving ADF members and their families manage stress and build resilience.

Take Action: Connect to Others when you are feeling down

When people are depressed they often withdraw from people and activities they used to enjoy. This can make symptoms like low mood even worse.

Use the Social Connections tool to identify the people in your life who can offer you support and the different kinds of support they can offer. This tool is helpful when you are planning how to increase your social contact and will help you reflect on and strengthen your relationships with others.

When you’re starting out you may want to focus on strengthening relationships with just a few people. Over time, you can work on building a wider support network by reaching out to other people in your community.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go.

Take Action: Get More Active to boost your mood

When people are depressed they are likely to do less activity, including physical activity. Physical activity is important because exercise can directly improve mood.

Use the Physical Activities tool to help you when you’re stuck for ideas for physical activity and finding it hard to get moving.

Getting started with exercise when feeling down and tired can be difficult. Start with something small and you might find that you actually enjoy it.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go

Take Action: Learn to Think About Things Differently when you are depressed

When people are depressed they often think more negatively about themselves, other people and the world.

The way that we think influences the way we feel. Thinking in an unhelpful way can make your mood worse and make it more difficult to deal with stressful situations.

Use the Challenge Your Thoughts tool to help you to identify when you are thinking in an unhelpful way, recognise how thinking affects the way you feel and learn how to change unhelpful thoughts.

When you’re starting out it’s a good idea to learn helpful thinking skills with a situation that is bothering you but isn’t too overwhelming. Once you’ve learned the skills you can apply them to more troubling situations. With practice, you’ll be able to apply these skills day-to-day as situations arise.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go

Take Action: Engage in Enjoyable Activities

If you are depressed, you will be less likely to engage in activities that you previously found enjoyable. Returning to activities you enjoy is an important part of recovering from depression.

Use the Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities tool to help identify activities and work through any difficulties so you can reach your goals

Take Action: Improve your mood by Improving your Sleep

People who are depressed sometimes sleep too much or sleep too little. There are specific factors that affect sleep quality.  Some simple changes can help you to get the best possible sleep.

Use the Healthy Sleeping tool and answer the questions about your usual sleeping behaviours to get tailored advice and tips to improve your sleep and optimise your mental and physical functioning.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go

  • Written materials for you and your family are available from websites such as beyondblue or Black Dog Institute.
  • There are also internet based self-help programs available, like MoodGYM and E-couch.
  • Useful books include Mind over mood: A cognitive therapy treatment manual (Padesky and Greenberger, 1995) and Feeling good: The new mood therapy (Burns, 1999).

Depression and older veterans

There are several reasons that depression might develop later in life, like deteriorating physical health, loneliness, and loss of loved ones. Unfortunately, older people who are feeling depressed often don’t do anything about it. Some don’t want to worry their family or friends, and others don’t believe in talking about mental health or don’t want to admit they’re not coping. Many older people (and their friends and family) wrongly assume that symptoms of depression like having trouble sleeping, unexplained pain, concentration or memory problems, or loss of interest in life, are simply a normal part of ageing. The good news is that depression can be treated no matter your age, so if you’ve noticed a change in your physical health, memory, or behaviour that you can’t explain, speak to your GP about it. You can find out more at Healthdirect.

Josie’s story...

I heard once that Winston Churchill called his depression “The Black Dog”. I think it’s more like a heavy black cloud that settles all around you. It feels like a lead weight on your shoulders and you can’t see through it. All you can see it blackness. I didn’t know what it was until a few months ago.

 

Read Josie’s full story here.


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007, ABS catalogue no. 4326.0, Canberra.

[2] O'Toole, B. I., Marshall, R. P., Grayson, D. A., Schureck, R. J., Dobson, M., Ffrench, M., . . . Vennard, J. (1996). The Australian Vietnam veterans health study: III. Psychological health of Australian Vietnam veterans and its relationship to combat. International Journal of Epidemiology, 25, 331-339.

[3] Black, D. W., Carney, C. P., Forman-Hoffman, V. L., Letuchy, E., Peloso, P., Woolson, R. F., & Doebbeling, B. N. (2004). Depression in veterans of the Firt Gulf War and comparable military controls. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 16, 53-61.

[4] McFarlane, A. C., Hodson, S. E., Van Hooff, M., & Davies, C. (2011). Mental health in the Australian Defence Force: 2010 ADF Mental Health and Wellbeing Study: Full report. Canberra: Department of Defence.