An in-depth look at depression

Depression is a common condition, usually leaving the individual feeling sad for weeks or months at a time. It may be difficult for others to empathise, believing that sufferers can recover by pulling themselves together.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Typically, depression will cause long lasting feelings of unhappiness and a loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy.

Feelings of anxiety, resulting in stress or low mood, are also common. These are often accompanied by physical symptoms, including feeling constantly tired, sleeping poorly and loss of both appetite and sex drive.

Other social issues may occur such as poor performance at work, avoiding social events, and difficulties with home and family life.

At its most extreme, depression can make a person suicidal, as they feel life with the condition is not worth living. The Samaritans are available 24/7 for anyone feeling depressed or suicidal.

What causes depression?

Common causes include life changing events such as bereavement, losing a job, having a child or suffering from a serious illness. Leaving the military may also be a cause.

Depression can run in families and particular personality traits, such as being overly self-critical can contribute. Sometimes, however, there may be no clear reason for a person to experience depression.

What should I do if I think I have depression?

  • ADMIT you have a problem. Don't feel ashamed. You're not on your own.
  • SHARE your concerns with your spouse or family. They can support you.
  • SPEAK with your GP and request a specialist veterans' assessment.
  • CONTACT a Veterans' Gateway advisor, many of whom are veterans themselves, who can connect you with a specialist partner for help.
  • READ veterans stories and mental wellbeing expert advice on the Veterans' Gateway website.
  • TALK about your experiences at a local peer support group led by veterans.
  • KEEP ASKING if your episode of care has ended ask for more help if needed.
  • DON'T GIVE UP keep trying until you find the right help that suits you.

What treatments are available for depression?

Your GP can help you identify if you have depression, often through questions about your general health, mentally and physically. Although there are no physical tests for depression, your GP may examine you and carry out blood or urine tests to rule out other conditions.

Be honest when responding to your GP. Any discussion you have is confidential, and truthful answers will help your GP make a more accurate diagnosis. The NHS website gives details on how to access mental health services.

The treatments for depression vary depending on how severe the condition is. Often treatment will involve a combination of self-help, therapies and medicines.

Those diagnosed with mild depression may be provided with a few treatment options:

  • The first option may simply be to wait and see. This is known as watchful waiting, where your GP will monitor your progress over two weeks. In some cases, an individual may improve, so no further action is needed.
  • The second option can be frequent exercise. There is strong evidence that exercise can help with mild depression, so you may be referred to a fitness trainer for an exercise scheme.
  • The third option is self-help groups. Talking through your feelings with friends, relatives, or local support groups can be particularly beneficial. Organisations like Combat Stress or Help for Heroes can help you find support groups.

Anyone experiencing moderate depression may find their GP suggests the following treatments:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be recommended as a way for you to manage depression by changing the way you think and behave.
  • Counselling may also be suggested, and involves talking to a trained therapist who will listen to you and help you find ways to deal with depression or other emotional issues.

Severe depression will often see your GP recommending the following treatment options:

  • Antidepressants are tablets that can treat the symptoms of depression through medical intervention. There are many varieties available and your GP will usually only prescribe them for severe cases.
  • Combination therapy is an approach that includes a course of antidepressants alongside talking therapy. Often these two methods combined will work better than performing each individually.
  • For very severe cases, you may be referred to a mental health team. This team, comprised of specialist psychologists, nurses and occupational therapists, will provide intensive talking treatments and prescribed medication.

For help from our partners, see our guides below:

Watch the video below to find out more about the mental health support Veterans' Gateway offered to veterans Colin and Pete and their spouses.

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