Case study - depression

A case study about depression of an ex-Australian Defence Force member.

Josie, 29 years old, recently got back from her first deployment

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 is blackness. I didn’t know what it was until a few months ago.

I reckon I was a pretty normal kid. I had ups and downs, but generally I was OK. When I was 23, I was working in a dead end job and one day my boyfriend of two years walked out on me. No explanation, just up and left. I was devastated. For the week after that I barely got out of bed, I just couldn’t find the energy or the motivation to get up or do anything. Luckily I had some good friends who looked after me and got me back on my feet. I left my job, joined the army, and things really looked up for a while. But after I got back from the Middle East about six months ago, I started feeling horribly depressed. I don’t even know why – the deployment wasn’t difficult. I wasn’t really in danger and I didn’t see anything too awful or upsetting, but the adjustment coming home was harder than I expected. I just felt worse and worse, and all the things I used to enjoy seemed stupid and pointless. I couldn’t be bothered doing anything, not even eating. I didn’t have any energy but I couldn’t sleep either. I managed to talk the Doc on the base into giving me a few weeks off sick, but that didn’t do any good. I just stayed in bed and cried. Once I even thought about killing myself, but then I thought about what it would do to Mum and Dad.

Taking action

While I was off sick, I saw an article about depression in a magazine. "Beating the Blues" it was called. It was like they were writing about me – they described exactly what I was going through. Except for the bit where they talked about treatment and getting over depression, because I hadn’t done anything about that. Although part of me didn’t believe it, another part of me wanted to give it a try. One thing was for sure – I didn’t want to feel like this any longer. So I went back to the Doc on the base and asked if I could see the psych. The doctor wasn’t enthusiastic. I think he thought I just wanted to get out of work. He then got me to fill out a questionnaire and my responses seemed to change his mind. He gave me a prescription for an antidepressant and referred me to a civilian psychologist in town. The psychologist was good and the ADF paid all the bills. It was scary going into the psychologist’s office the first time. I didn’t know what to expect. But the psychologist was really nice. We talked about the problems I’d been having. He said that depression can happen because of all sorts of reasons; maybe some biological things, maybe some bad habits, maybe some life stress. But he said there were very effective treatments and I remember leaving his office that first day with more hope than I’d felt for ages.

We had about 15 sessions. I haven’t seen him for six weeks or so, but I’m going back for a "check up" in a fortnight. I reckon I’m travelling well. The GP said I could wean off the antidepressant next month. I also saw a mental health social worker who worked with the psychologist. She helped me sort out some practical things, like my accommodation and my relationship with my family…things that were getting in the way of me feeling better. But the most important thing for me was getting back into doing the things I used to love. I realised that if I sat around until I felt motivated it would never happen. So I forced myself to do things and the motivation gradually came back. I actually started enjoying myself. And with the psych’s help, I started to keep a diary of my thoughts. When I start to think negatively, I write down what I’m thinking, challenge it, and come up with something more helpful. It might sound simple, but it really helps. Now I’m looking forward to the future and I feel like the cloud has blown away.

Helping yourself

Seek help if you or someone you know might have depression. Start by visiting a GP, as they can refer to specialists (psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health social worker) and prescribe medication.

More information is available about depression including self-help tools.

If you have served one day in the ADF, you are eligible for:

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) supports defence members, ex-serving members, veterans and their families with counselling for individuals and group-based programs. Call Open Arms on 1800 011 046.