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Dispelling the Myths about Depression

Depression 101: Depression is treatable. Signs and symptoms of depression include: Persistent sadness, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, hopelessness, irritability, restlessness, diminished interest or pleasure in activities, fatigue, problems concentrating or thinking clearly, insomnia, excessive sleeping, overeating/appetite loss, thoughts of suicide. Types of depression include: major depressive disorder: severe symptoms that interfere with our ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life; persistent depressive disorder: depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years; Postpartum depression: depression brought on by hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn; Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight — the depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Causes of depression are biological, psychological, environmental, and genetic. Depression by the numbers: 6.6 % of adults 18 or older had a major depressive episode in 2014 (NSDUH, 2014). 11.4% of adolescents age 12-17 had a major depressive episode in 2014 (NSDUH, 2014). Women are nearly 2X as likely as men to experience depression (NIMH). From 2004-2012, more service members were hospitalized for depression than any other category of mental disorders (MSMR, Jul 2013). Treatments for depression include: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): a structured, short-term therapy based on the theory that depression is caused by certain patterns of thinking and behaviors; problem-solving therapy (PST): treatment based on the theory that depression can be caused in part by problems in a person's life stacking up and leading them to feel overwhelmed; interpersonal therapy (IPT): a short-term therapy based on the idea that some people experinece depression because of problematic relationships; anti-depressant medications (ADM): medications thought to correct chemical imbalances in the brain that occur when a person is depressed

Depression is a mental health condition often characterized by low mood, lethargy, loss of interest in usual activities and low motivation. People with depression are likely to benefit from treatment (such as talk therapy, medication), but many service members do not get help when they have symptoms. Many of the beliefs people have about depression are actually false and can perpetuate stigma and prevent people from reaching out and getting the help they need. It’s critical that service members understand the facts about depression and treatments that are available.

Myths vs. Facts

Myth: Depression is just a bad case of the blues

Fact: Everyone feels down or “blue” at times; it can be completely normal for those feelings to last for a few hours or days. But depression can last for months or even years if untreated and may cause significant problems in a person’s work and personal life.  Depression is often a great deal more intense than just feeling sad, and can affect thoughts, feelings and behaviors such as appetite, sex drive, energy level and ability to concentrate.

Myth: Depression will go away if you wait it out

Fact: Although depression may go away on its own, most people with depression find that it doesn’t go away and can get worse over time. Trying to wait it out may bring unnecessary risk to your career and your personal relationships. Depression can also be a contributing factor in suicide. There are proven treatments for depression that work relatively quickly and have high rates of success.

Myth: Only weak people get depressed

Fact: Depression has nothing to do with a lack of toughness. This fact is supported by top leadership throughout the military. Much like other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, there is a genetic component to depression; people are at a greater risk to develop depression if their relatives have had it. Some of the most influential people in history coped with depression.

Myth: People should be able to snap themselves out of depression

Fact: You can’t use willpower alone to cure yourself of an infection like pneumonia – the same is true of depression. No one chooses to develop depression, and people can’t just choose not to have it. Depression is a mental health condition associated with changes in the brain that can’t be cured simply by trying to “snap out of it.”

Myth: Treatment does not work

Fact: There are many effective treatments for depression, supported by decades of research. Several forms of therapy and several types of medication are shown to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Myth: If I seek care, everyone in my unit will know

Fact: The majority of mental health care remains confidential. Providers only break confidentiality in limited cases, such as if you are at risk for suicide or have a duty restriction – such as cannot carry a weapon – that requires the provider to inform your command. If your role requires reporting and monitoring of your own mental health treatment, then your command structure will know, but not the members of your unit who don’t have a need to know. In therapy, providers talk to patients about the limits of confidentiality and what specific information will be recorded in their records or shared with others.

Myth: I will lose leadership roles and the trust of my unit, etc.

Fact: You are at greater risk of losing leadership roles if you are repeatedly late for work because of sleep problems, use drugs or alcohol to feel better, or make mistakes because of poor concentration. These can be symptoms of depression and can interfere with your ability to perform a mission. Seeking care is a proactive step toward ensuring readiness, and will not likely affect your leadership positions. In fact, getting treatment may be a way to maintain the trust of fellow service members and leadership.

Myth: I will lose my security clearance if I seek help

Fact: Standard Form 86 (security clearance application) asks if the applicant has consulted with a health care provider about an emotional or mental health condition. However, the section also states that mental health counseling alone is not a reason to revoke or deny eligibility for a clearance. Many factors contribute to the security clearance revocation or denial.  Clearances are denied or revoked only in rare cases, when a mental health condition(s) severely impacts someone’s ability to function, and impairs their ability to demonstrate appropriate judgment in safeguarding classified materials. In reality, only a very small number of applicants are denied a security clearance based on mental health concerns.

Myth: I will be administratively or medically separated if I seek care

Fact: Depression is treatable; a full recovery and return to duty can be expected. A medical separation is a last resort, and generally occurs only after months of treatment have failed to return the service member to a fit-for-duty status. Service members who disagree with the need for medical separation can appeal the medical board recommendation.