With a theme of "One of the bravest acts ... is to ask for help when you need it," the Army is using National Depression Education and Awareness Month activities in October to combat a stigma associated with behavioral-health care and teach Soldiers and their Families how to recognize depression and get help for it.

Depression is more than just "feeling low." It is a serious medical condition that may be persistent and can interfere with a person's ability to function. It affects some 18.8 million Americans, according to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).

Signs and symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, lack of energy, changes in appetite or weight, inability to sleep or changes in sleep pattern, inability to concentrate or make decisions, feeling worthless or inappropriate guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Almost everyone experiences some of these symptoms at some time. But the more symptoms there are, the stronger they are and the longer they last, the more likely the person is suffering depression. Experts say it is time to seek treatment when these symptoms are overwhelming and disabling.

"Depression is a medical illness caused by malfunctioning of certain neuro-chemical systems in the brain," said Col. C. J. Diebold, chief of psychiatry at Tripler Army Medical Center and the Army Surgeon General's consultant for psychiatry. "Factors contributing to depression can be psychological stress; physical illness; medical conditions such as anemia or a malfunctioning thyroid gland and side effects of certain medications. Depression can also occur with other psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder."

"Like many medical conditions, depression can be inherited, so people may be at risk if their parents or grandparents have a history of depression," he added.

The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs offer anonymous behavioral-health assessments online at www.militarymentalhealth.org and www.mentalhealth.va.gov/depression.asp.

In 2008, the Department of Defense, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved revisions to question 21 on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, Standard Form (SF) 86, regarding mental and emotional health counseling. The change allows people who have been treated by a behavioral-health professional due to marital or family reasons not related to their violence, or related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment, to answer "no" to the question about receiving behavioral-health care.

"Major depression is a remarkably treatable disorder and the majority of people who receive treatment overcome the illness and return to normal lives," Dr. Jack Smith, acting chief medical officer of the TRICARE Management Activity, wrote in an online article.

"If a person is concerned that they are depressed, then he or she should make an appointment to speak with a primary-care provider or a behavioral-health professional for an assessment. Possible interventions include talk therapy and medications to treat symptoms associated with depression. The success rate is very high if a person follows the treatment plan," Diebold said.

For mild depression that does not require professional treatment, USUHS lists the following actions that can help:
A-A A(R) Manage your diet.
A-A A(R) Get adequate rest.
A-A A(R) Avoid alcohol.
A-A A(R) Participate in regular exercise.
A-A A(R) Surround yourself with people who are important to you.
A-A A(R) Communicate your feelings to someone you trust.
A-A A(R) Join a social support group in your military community or in your local area.

Key Facts about Depression

Depression is treatable. Seeking help for depression is a sign of strength.

The Army is committed to decreasing the stigma associated with seeking behavioral-health care and encourages its Soldiers, Family members and civilians to get help if they need it.

Most Soldiers who seek behavioral health support recover and remain on active duty.

Resilience is the ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and bounce back from adversity.

The Real Warriors Campaign is a DoD program to help Soldiers combat the stigma associated with seeking behavioral-health care.

The Department of Defense offers anonymous behavioral-health assessments for Soldiers, Family members and civilian government employees 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org or by phone at (877) 877-3647.

Help for those who may experience depression is available at Military One Source (www.militaryonesource.com) and the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach Center (http://www.dcoe.health.mil/media/DCoE_News/DCoE_Outreach_Center.aspx). Information about depression is available from the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine at http://chppm-www.apgea.army.mil and from the Army Behavioral Health Website http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil

Page last updated Tue September 29th, 2009 at 12:21