Depression is a common mental health condition, affecting approximately 322 million people worldwide. In the United States alone, more than 15 million adults experience depression symptoms each year. Unfortunately, many sufferers don’t seek help. To try to change this and draw attention to this mental health crisis, every October behavioral-health advocates take part in National Depression Education and Awareness Month. To highlight National Depression Education and Awareness Month, we explore how depression is often linked to substance abuse among Army Soldiers, Veterans and Military Families.

Understanding Depression

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “depression is more than just feeling down or having a bad day. When a sad mood lasts for a long time and interferes with normal, everyday functioning, you may be depressed. There are different types of depression, some of which develop due to specific circumstances.” Although depression can strike anyone at any time, military personnel are at an especially high risk of it. Indeed, recent studies from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that depression is much more common in the military than in the general population.

Risk Factors Linked With Substance Abuse

Many Veterans struggle with mental health issues as they transition to civilian life. Deployment, exposure to war and postdeployment civilian/reintegration problems have all been linked to an elevated incidence of substance use disorders (SUDs) among military personnel and Veterans. Simultaneous mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, are frequent among Veterans with an SUD. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported in 2019 that military personnel who have been traumatized, hospitalized or injured in war are at a higher risk of developing mental health and substance abuse problems. What’s more, service members with SUDs are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD or another major depressive disorder. Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Jackson, who is the senior HR sergeant at the Human Resources Office of the Maryland Army National Guard, shared his firsthand knowledge of depression and substance abuse in the Army. He observed, “It’s important to remember that Army Soldiers are still human beings first and they deal with reallife problems just like any other human being.” In Jackson’s opinion, military personnel have the resources and support they need to successfully combat a mental health crisis or substance use disorder, but awareness is a big problem. “I do believe the resources are there,” he said, “but the military can do a better job of highlighting those resources and fighting the stigmas around mental health particularly depression. A lot of Soldiers associate mental health with weakness, and that stigma must be eliminated.”

Get Involved in National Depression Education and Awareness Month

If you’d like to participate in National Depression Education and Awareness Month, one way to raise awareness is to provide information and resources to Army Soldiers, Veterans and Army Families. As Jackson noted, “There are so many people suffering in silence, and we must find ways to connect more with that population.” SAMHSA has a crisis hotline that provides support 24/7 every day of the year. If you or someone you know may be suffering from depression or another mental health problem, help is available by calling 800-662-4357. The Army Resilience Directorate website offers additional resources that Soldiers and Family Members can use to help them cope with alcohol and substance abuse at: