Depression used to be something we didn’t talk about. If you felt really bad, you were told to snap out of it, to harden up. Thanks to the efforts of the Mental Health Foundation and their front man, Sir John Kirwan, it’s now absolutely OK to ask for help if the “Black Dog” descends on you.
This section defines depression in detail, describes why you might have depression, suggests ways you can help yourself and where you can get help if you need it.
What is depression?
Depression is common in New Zealand, and at least 1 in 5 of us will experience a period of depression in our lifetime. It’s also common in veterans and serving members. Depression is a very distressing and disabling condition. Left untreated, periods of depression tend to last longer and happen more often, so it’s important to get help.
Being depressed in mood for short periods of time is a normal human reaction to an event or some bad news. This is not depression, which is a mental health condition associated with 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
- Lack of enthusiasm, difficulties with motivation
- Loss of interest and pleasure in normal activities
- Feeling angry and irritable
- 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.
Why do I have depression?
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 can make it more likely that someone might develop depression, but it doesn’t mean they definitely will.
A lot of people with depression suffer from strong feelings of guilt. After deployment, you might feel guilty that you survived while others did not; it might be about how you survived; 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 relevant, 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. It can be painful to deliberately think about it, but challenging the thoughts and beliefs that relate to your guilt can help make it less intense and upsetting.
Some military members develop depression because they find that the experience of combat, or serving in the military, shatters their idea of the world being a fair and safe place. It may take time, with the sharing of your experiences and thoughts with supportive people, to come to terms with these experiences, and restore your core values and beliefs.
What can I do about it?
Most people will respond quite quickly to professional psychological treatment, which is sometimes combined with anti-depressant medication to help you manage some of the feelings associated with your 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 to learn new ways of relating to people.
If you have tried self management but feel it’s not enough - if you feel that life is not worth living, if you struggle to be with other people, or if you're unable to carry out your normal role (e.g. as a worker, a parent, a student), then you might benefit from some help.
- Your doctor or other mental health professional is always a good place to start. He or she can help with a thorough assessment of the problem and make referrals for specialists.
- This website has information on a range of professional care options that are available.
- The Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 offers a 24-hour counselling service