Depression Treatment for Veterans
Mood disorders are mental illnesses characterized by extreme mood changes. Depression is one of the most prevalent mood disorders in the military and the general population. Military personnel and veterans are at high risk of suffering from this condition.
Recent studies indicate that around 14% of military personnel experience depressive disorders after deployment. This number might be even higher since many veterans do not seek help for their condition. Statistics also show that around 19% of veterans report that they received brain injuries while in service. These injuries include severe concussions that can cause brain damage and even lead to depressive disorders.
Trauma-related stress and multiple deployments do not only increase the risks of depressive disorders in military personnel and veterans but in their families as well. Their children may show behavioral and emotional problems, and their spouses are also at a high risk of developing depressive disorders. If you are a veteran or have a loved one who is a veteran battling depression, remember that professional help is available. Read on to learn more about veteran depression, its causes, risk factors, signs, and treatment options.
What Is Depression?
Depression refers to a critical mental condition mainly depicted by intense and persistent feelings of sadness. When depression symptoms are at their most severe, it is known as major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), one in three veterans who seek help show symptoms of depression, and one in eight to 10 veterans have signs of MDD.
Depression can significantly affect your behavior and moods. It can also impact your physical functions, like sleep and appetite. Individuals with depression often have difficulty executing everyday activities. They might also feel extremely hopeless. Apart from MDD or clinical depression, other types of depressive disorders that can cause adverse symptoms include seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and psychotic depression.
Everyone experiences irritability, low energy, or sadness from time to time, and these feelings usually pass. Depression is completely different from these temporary feelings. Depression makes it hard to concentrate and perform your daily activities. You might have issues that cause your relationships to suffer. Depression forces you to focus on what is not going well around you, making it difficult to see the positive things in your life. It makes you lose pleasure and interest in the things, people, and activities you used to enjoy.
Some military personnel experience depression from losing people close to them, such as a friend from their unit. Others may feel depressed after changing or losing their job. When these feelings of sadness last for more than a couple of weeks or seriously affect your life, it might be a warning sign of depression. Depression in military personnel can coexist with numerous mental and physical health problems, including traumatic brain injury, substance use, heart disease, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Signs of Depressive Disorders in Veterans
The signs of depression might be difficult to notice initially. They vary widely from one individual to another. One person may struggle to get out of bed every day while another may have difficulties sitting still. Biological factors also play a role in how depression affects your life. For instance, men struggling with depression usually exhibit higher rates of substance use, aggression, risk-taking, and anger than depressed women. Some of the common signs and symptoms of depression are:
- Drastic weight changes
- Feeling guilty or unworthy
- Eating less or more
- Suicide or self-harm thoughts
- Feeling hopeless or sad
- Losing interest in your daily activities
- Social isolation
- Altered sleep habits
- Decreased energy or increased fatigue
- Feeling nervous, anxious, or worried
- Drinking more caffeine
- Inability to concentrate
- Frustration and irritability
- Feeling aggressive for no reason
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Low self-esteem
Having suicidal thoughts, believing that there’s no way out of your problems, and thinking that other people would be better off without you are critical signs of depression that need immediate attention. If you have these thoughts, talk to a healthcare provider or counselor immediately.
Causes of Depression and Risk Factors
Depression affects your mood, body, thoughts, and actions. Anyone can suffer from depression – men and women, young and old, people from all walks of life, and all ethnic groups. There are several risk factors that contribute to depression. These factors include genetic, environmental, psychological, and biological influences. Life events that may trigger depression in veterans and the general population include:
- Death of a family member or friend
- Disabilities or health problems
- Traumatic events like sexual or physical abuse
- Certain medications
- Divorce or relationship problems
- Difficult work situations
- Losing a job or changing jobs
- History of neglect
- Substance abuse
- Financial problems
- History of depression in the family
The military work environment can act as a catalyst for depression in service members and veterans. Here are some unique factors that can trigger depression in military service members:
- Physical injuries
- Post-deployment reintegration
- Combat exposure and stress
- Witnessing or experiencing harm
- Separation from family
- Preparing for deployment
Substance Use and Veteran Depression
Substance use and addiction often coexist with mood disorders in veterans and military members. Like depression, substance use in veterans can be linked to various risk elements specific to military personnel, such as reintegration challenges after deployment and combat exposure.
Many veterans and service members suffering from addiction also have PTSD. PTSD in veterans is often the result of seeing or experiencing tragic things, such as combat-related incidents or sexual abuse. Since PTSD symptoms might be triggered by any reminder of the tragic event, many veterans turn to alcohol or drugs to numb their pain and self-medicate.
According to the VA, more than 20% of veterans with PTSD may also suffer from addiction. Individuals with PTSD find it more challenging to overcome their substance use than those without it. The withdrawal and PTSD symptoms combine to amplify negative emotions and feelings that might cause a relapse.
Veterans looking for addiction treatment have several options. In addition to the traditional outpatient and inpatient rehab programs, veterans have an opportunity to seek addiction treatment through the VA. This option is incredibly beneficial for veterans or service members who might have difficulties finding affordable treatment programs on their own.
If you are a VA healthcare program member, integrated treatment for addiction and mood disorders is usually included in your VA benefits. This treatment is also covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and many private insurance companies.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires health insurance plans in the marketplace to cover substance use disorders and mental health conditions as fundamental health benefits. Specific benefits may vary, so consult your plan details and insurance provider.
Treatments for Veterans With Depression
Many depressed veterans isolate themselves from people since they feel that no one understands what they have experienced. Unfortunately, social isolation only makes their anxiety and depression worse. As a result, many veterans often turn to substance or alcohol abuse to deal with their anxiety and depression.
One research study indicates that about one in 10 veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq struggle with substance use disorders, which can also worsen their depression. Fortunately, there are many effective depression treatments available. VA offers an array of mental health options and services for treating mental health disorders.
Antidepressant medications help veterans with depression deal with lack of sleep, irritability, feelings of sadness, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. Many non-drug treatments that effectively overcome anxiety and depression also exist. Here is a list of the therapies and treatments available to veterans at your nearest VA medical center:
Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT-D)
IPT-D helps clients enhance their social functioning and personal relationships. It helps them examine the relationship issues contributing to their depression. It also helps with interpersonal disputes, unresolved grief, and difficult life transitions like divorce, retirement, or discharge.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT-D)
CBT-D takes a practical approach to coping with negative thoughts. Its main goal is to change the thinking or behavior patterns that contribute to depressive disorders. It helps clients identify and replace unhelpful behaviors with healthier, more realistic ones. Usually, CBT-D starts showing positive results within the first five to 10 months, especially with weekly sessions.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Experts use CPT to treat PTSD. This therapy is also effective in fighting anxiety. The main focus of CPT is on teaching a wide range of skills that challenge all negative thoughts stemming from anxiety. It helps the clients gain control back in their lives.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT-D)
ACT is a talk therapy designed to help clients stop denying, struggling, or avoiding their deeper emotions. It helps them figure out the most important things in their lives and the necessary changes they need to make to accomplish their life goals.
Behavioral Activation (BA)
BA helps clients learn how their behavior and actions relate to their moods and ways to develop relevant responses to improve their daily satisfaction. During therapy sessions, clients identify their goals and engage in meaningful activities to accomplish them.
Problem Solving Therapy (PST)
PST helps veterans and military service members recover from challenging situations and learn skills that enhance their quality of life. PST improves the ability to cope with stressors and traumatic life situations by creating a response plan.
Get Help Today!
Depression in veterans is a significant issue, impacted by distressing circumstances and a prevalent stigma. While veterans and military personnel are at a high risk of developing depressive disorders, the VA promotes early detection and treatment. Widely available and effective treatment programs can help veterans and those coping with depressive disorders throughout their service and beyond. If you are a veteran or a member of the military who is experiencing depression or another mood disorder, visit VeteranRehab.org to find resources to help you need.