Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders, with nearly six percent of the United States population experiencing at least one depressive episode in 2020. Depression is more complex than just persistent feelings of sadness. Rather, it is a wholly overwhelming experience.
Left unaddressed, depression can continue to affect an individual’s mental health and various other aspects of life. This is especially true for veterans of the armed forces, who are exposed to the effects of depression in unique ways. Veterans are uniquely vulnerable to depression and the lasting effects that accompany it.
Depression Among Veterans
Veterans of any branch of the armed forces are exposed to a myriad of challenges during their time on active duty. These experiences can have lasting effects on their mental health.
Exposure to Trauma
Some veterans may have experienced traumatic situations in the line of duty, including the loss of brothers and sisters in arms or physical injury in the field. Being in an active warzone can fundamentally change a person’s perspectives and ideals, birthing intense feelings of depression, anxiety, and much more. The prevalence of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is extraordinarily common among veterans. These mental health concerns are often accompanied by intense symptoms of depression.
An individual doesn’t have to be in an active warzone for depression to manifest. Likewise, certain military cultures can also bring their own challenges. For example, military sexual trauma (MST) is a common trauma of military life. Those who experience this kind of trauma while on base or on deployment often experience long-lasting effects.
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A Lack of Emotional Vulnerability
An overly macho atmosphere or the challenges of a person’s identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can also have lasting effects. Individuals may feel betrayed by their own culture as a result, which can lead to depression and other mental health disorders.
The emotional difficulties that military personnel are exposed to can be further exacerbated by a culture that does little to allow for emotional vulnerability. This often leaves those struggling with anxiety or depression to do so silently, pushing these feelings down as they continue to build.
Veterans often carry these experiences along with them, even after being discharged. As a result, it is common for veterans to struggle with the effects of depression in civilian life. While one in three veterans has experienced symptoms of depression, about one in eight struggle with major depressive disorder.
Symptoms of Depression in Veterans
Despite the ubiquity of depression among veterans, not all will experience it in the same way. There are many different signs and symptoms of depression that can impact daily life. Some of the common signs of depression among veterans include:
- Persistent feelings of low mood or sadness, often lasting for days or weeks
- A sense of emotional numbness or melancholy
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Low motivation
- Compromised personal hygiene
- Physical fatigue or aches
- Changes in appetite, either excessively eating or skipping meals entirely
- Pervasive negative thoughts or pessimism
- The use of drugs or alcohol
- An increase in suicidal ideology
An individual does not have to experience every listed symptom to experience a diagnosis of depression. Still, noticing these signs of depression in a veteran loved one can be used as a motivator for them to pursue professional care.
The Dangers of Depression Among Veterans
Depression can affect many different aspects of veteran life. The use of drugs or alcohol is common among veterans in an attempt to cope with feelings of trauma, anxiety, and depression. However, the continued use of these addictive substances can quickly develop into an unhealthy coping mechanism or substance use disorder (SUD).
When veterans struggle with both a mental health disorder and SUD simultaneously, they are referred to as having co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are an incredibly difficult situation to navigate. While overcoming depression is difficult, the journey to a healthy emotional state can be further complicated by addictive substances or other emotional trials like trauma.
Finding professional support and a dedicated veteran program for alcohol and depression treatment may be required to address the unique challenges veterans face, either stemming from their time on duty or as a result of their transition to civilian life.
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Veterans have a unique set of needs throughout recovery and challenging the effects of depression while navigating SUD, PTSD, and more requires a dedicated community of peers and trained professionals. It can be challenging for veterans to connect with those who have not led similar lifestyles. Therefore, connecting veterans with other members of the armed forces is crucial for creating an effective healing community.
Likewise, it is important to address both depression and any other co-occurring disorders in tandem for an effective recovery plan. As an individual’s depression can motivate the use of drugs or alcohol, both sides of this relationship must be addressed for effective healing to take place. Veteran peers and informed professionals are crucial for not only navigating depression among veterans but for helping each veteran create a new, accepting culture in civilian life.
Veterans of the armed forces can be significantly impacted by the effects of depression. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the unique needs and challenges that veterans face. Our trauma-informed professionals are ready to help you challenge and overcome the effects of depression to create a healthy, fulfilling civilian life. From detox and residential treatment to ongoing outpatient care, our dedicated veteran program can connect you with peers and professionals. We believe in healing as a community to instill greater support and empathy. Our comprehensive rehab in Hawaii allows us to address each of your needs and goals for recovery. Learn more about Hawaii Island Recovery’s program by calling (866) 390-5070.