Depression – help is available

Depression is a common condition; one in five of us experience a form of depression at some stage in our lives. This could be you, a family member, or a mate.

No matter what your situation is, help is available. A good place to start is by talking with your doctor, a friend, or a family member you feel you can talk to. There are many resources available to help veterans and their families.

Seeking help early is important.

If you think you might be feeling depressed, see your GP or call the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS, www.vvcs.gov.au), available 24 hours a day on 1800 011 046.

If you are severely distressed or thinking of acting on thoughts of self harm or harm to others, call 000 or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department.

What is depression?

We all feel low or sad from time to time. But when feelings such as constant worry, lack of sleep, loss of motivation, and sadness continue for more than two weeks, and start interfering with your day-to-day life, these might be symptoms of depression or another cause. Even if you think your symptoms are related to a specific reason or life event, it is important to talk to your doctor. There are different types of depression and symptoms can range from mild (but still distressing) to very severe.

How long does depression last?

Having an episode of depression does not mean it will last forever. With the right care and support, most people recover. For others, ongoing support and care is needed.

What can help me or my family member recover?

Treatment is tailored to fit you, your needs and the severity of depression. Psychological therapy and exercise work well for many people. For some, especially those with mild or moderate depression, this might be all that is needed. For others, taking an antidepressant medicine forms part of their treatment plan. Always seek help early and keep in frequent contact with your GP, so that they can support you.

Psychological help

Psychological therapies are a proven treatment for depression and can help prevent it from returning. There are different types of therapies. These can be offered face-to-face, individually, in a group setting, or online with the support of your GP or another health professional, such as a psychologist. Depending on how well you respond and the type of therapy, sessions generally continue for 8-12 weeks or for as long as you need them. Make sure you complete the full program to get the most benefit. Talk to your doctor about which psychological therapy might best suit you.

“It was hard at first but I realised I had to look after myself a bit better. I started by getting up and going for a short walk in the morning. Just having that one routine, and then starting the sessions with the psychologist...I have started to feel a lot better.”

DVA can help you during this time

DVA can pay for treatment for any mental health conditions without the need for the conditions to be accepted as related to service. This is known as non-liability health care. Call DVA on 133 254 or 1800 555 254 or visit www.dva.gov.au/nlhc to find out if you are eligible and how to apply.

Visit the DVA At Ease portal to find out more about treatment options for depression, including self-help tools, online programs and mobile device apps http://at-ease.dva.gov.au/veterans/recognise-the-signs/common-mental-health-disorders/depression/

This includes the interactive website and app High Res which offers a range of free tools and self-help resources, to help reduce stress and build resilience https://at-ease.dva.gov.au/highres

Watch the DVA video Start the journey back to good mental health https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8bR09aIRAk&list=UUk1a1f9hPUJ-xJXFuYO1Q9w

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What can I do?

tickTalk to your doctor about developing a ‘stay well plan’

Each person is different. It is about finding out what works best for you. For further information, visit https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/staying-well/journey-to-wellness

tickSet time aside each day to do the things you enjoy

Doing the things that you enjoy helps to reduce stress, improves your ability to cope with difficult situations that arise in life, and gives you an overall sense of wellbeing. Things that you enjoy might include gardening, reading a book, or spending time with friends.

tickMake it a priority to keep active

Being active for 20-30 minutes every day releases chemicals in the brain which lift your mood. Being active also increases your energy levels and improves sleep. Start simple, choose something you enjoy, and slowly increase your activity levels, especially if you haven’t been active for a while. Activities might include shopping, yoga, walking, or playing a team sport with your friends. To find out how exercise can help depression, visit https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/default-source/factsheets/managingdepressionwithexercise.pdf

tickKeep up your connections with friends, family, doctors or counsellors

Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it. Discuss your goals and plans for keeping well with your partner, family and friends.

tickKeep good sleep habits

Getting a good night’s sleep helps your general wellbeing. There are things you can do to help you sleep better such as going to bed at the same time each night, limiting caffeine, and being active during the day. To learn more about good sleep habits, visit www.veteransmates.net.au/topic-18-veterans-advice

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When might an antidepressant be part of my treatment plan?

Your GP will tailor treatment for you, your preferences, and the severity of the depression. For some people, this might include an antidepressant medicine. Antidepressant medicines work best when combined with psychological therapies, exercise, and other strategies that improve your overall wellbeing.

If you are taking an antidepressant medicine, understand how they work. Ask your GP the following questions:

  • How will this medicine help me?
  • How long will I have to take it before I start to feel better?
  • Does it have any side effects and how long will they last?
  • Do I need to avoid any other medicines (including herbal and complementary medicines) or foods while taking this medicine?
  • What do I do if I forget to take the antidepressant?
  • How long will I need to take the antidepressant for?
  • What other treatment will help me feel better?
  • What will happen when it is time to stop taking the antidepressant?

If you start an antidepressant medicine, you will initially see your GP every one to two weeks to see how you are going. Together, you can decide when it is time to stop taking the antidepressant. This is usually after you have felt well for a period of time. Do not suddenly stop taking an antidepressant without talking to your GP. Depending on the antidepressant you are taking, the dose might need to be reduced slowly over weeks and months. This helps to minimise the symptoms that can occur when stopping an antidepressant.

To find out more about antidepressant medicines, visit https://www.nps.org.au/medical-info/consumer-info/antidepressant-medicines-explained

“Over the years I had stopped seeing my friends. I found a supportive GP who has helped me to build up the confidence to start reconnecting with a few of them. I make sure I get out in the garden most days, and it’s nice to catch up with a friend each week.”

Talk to your doctor before suddenly stopping an antidepressant medicine.

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