A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome any mental health concerns, as they can refer you to specialists, and, if necessary, support your efforts with medications. If you are a Veteran, ask for a Veteran Health Check.
Depression is a distressing and disabling condition that can reduce your quality of life. Treatments are available that can change your life for the better. The first step is to start a conversation.
What is depression?
People often refer to themselves as being depressed, but how we define depression is probably different from the depression health professionals talk about.
Depression is a distressing and disabling condition. It's also 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.
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 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
- 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
If these symptoms describe you, seek help as soon as possible.
Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides free and confidential counselling support for veterans and their families. Call 1800 011 046 to learn more.
For any crisis, including medical emergencies, call 000.
Use the Problem Solving tool to help work through problems contributing to depression
If you’re worried about a particular problem or situation you find yourself in, the Problem Solving tool can help you work through the problem and find solutions.
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.
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 or relationship difficulties.
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 will.
Sometimes people shift between periods of depression and periods of heightened energy and euphoria. If this describes you, read more about bipolar disorder.
You’re not alone
Depression is common in Australia.
Around 1 in 9 Australian adults will experience depression. It’s more common in the veteran community. Depressive disorders affect around a quarter of Vietnam veterans, a third of Gulf war veterans and one-in-five current serving members.
Feelings of guilt
A lot of people with depression suffer from strong feelings of guilt.
After deployment, for example, you might feel guilty that you survived (or weren't physically injured) while others did not.
Sometimes you can feel guilty because you’re trying to apply civilian or peacetime morality to a combat situation.
The nature of military operations means that sometimes those standards aren't applicable, and you may not have had the luxury of time to think about what has developed into a life-changing decision.
Sometimes in military life, there’s no acceptable or ‘good’ option. It may take some time to come to terms with these difficult experiences. This is a common response and treatment options have been developed to help veterans dealing with these issues.
If you need someone to talk to, Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling can help. Call 1800 011 046 and start a conversation. Open Arms can also help veteran families if you're concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one.
What treatments can help?
Effective treatments for depression are available. Most people will respond reasonably quickly to psychological therapy for depression. This is frequently combined with anti-depressant medication to help manage negative feelings and other symptoms of depression.
One of the most effective treatments for depression is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
CBT 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).
IPT aims to help you understand how interactions with other people can contribute to or worsen depression, and learn new ways of relating to people.
A wide range of free health services is available to veterans dealing with depression, anxiety and other issues.
Open Arms can provide individual, couple and family counselling to help improve your resilience, as well as enhance your mental health and wellbeing. Call 1800 011 046 for free and confidential 24/7 support.
A program to help you understand and manage depression.
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.
Useful books include Mind over mood: A cognitive therapy treatment manual (Padesky and Greenberger, 1995) and Feeling good: The new mood therapy (Burns, 1999).
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.
Get more active to boost your mood
Physical activity helps manage depression because exercise can directly improve mood. However, if you are depressed, it can be a lot harder to become motivated to exercise.
Use the Physical Activities tool to help you when you’re stuck for ideas for physical activity and finding it hard to start.
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 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 identify when you're thinking in an unhelpful way, recognise how thinking affects the way you feel and learn how to change unhelpful thoughts.
Engage in enjoyable activities
If you are depressed, you will be less likely to engage in activities that you previously found enjoyable, including exercise and even sex. 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
Improve your mood by improving your sleep
People who are depressed sometimes sleep too much or 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 for tailored advice and tips to improve your sleep and optimise your mental and physical functioning.
These tools are also available on the High Res app to use on the go.
Depression and older veterans
Deteriorating physical health, loneliness and loss of loved ones can result in depression late in life.
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 trouble sleeping, unexplained pain, concentration or memory problems, or loss of interest in life are simply a normal part of ageing.
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.
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.