Call, email, or chat with psychological health resource consultants for prevention resources and answers to your questions.

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Combat experiences and stressful military operations can increase the risk for developing depression. In response to the 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey, nearly ten percent of active-duty service members reported probable depression.[ Reference 1 ]

Symptoms of Depression

When left unchecked, depression can impact mission readiness, work performance, and relationships. Spotting symptoms of depression in oneself, unit members, or subordinates and encouraging treatment if symptoms persist can help prevent depression from becoming debilitating.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Changes in appetite or unintended weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Restlessness or moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • Loss of energy/constantly feeling or complaining of tiredness
  • Feelings of guilt or unworthiness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Concentration or memory difficulties
  • Anxiousness, nervousness, or worry
  • Thoughts of suicide or of harming oneself

Learn more about depression prevention, screening, and treatment in the depression section.

Risk Factors for Depression

Depression can be triggered by periods of prolonged or extreme instances of stress, grief or loss, exposure to a traumatic event, or personal upheaval (such as a separation or divorce), or financial difficulties. Additional risk factors unique to military deployments and operations include combat exposure, serious injury, periods of prolonged isolation associated with assignments (e.g., submarine deployments), long separations from family and friends, sleep deprivation, exposure to death or human suffering, and periods of prolonged or extreme exertion.[ Reference 3 ]

In addition to personal and military stressors, universal risk factors for depression include:[ Reference 4 ]

  • Family history of depression
  • History of childhood trauma
  • Exposure to traumatic events
  • Prior history of episode(s) of depression
  • Change in health status
  • Substance misuse
  • Gender (women are more likely to experience depression)
  • Social isolation
  • Tendency to ruminate
  • Influences of peers with depression


In addition to PHCoE information and resources on depression, including screening tools, the following resources can support service members, leaders, and providers.

  • Dealing with Depression: Symptoms and Treatment Self-help tips and referral resources for service members and veterans dealing with depression are available from the Real Warriors Campaign website.
  • Depression Descriptions of symptoms, treatment options, programs and services, and self-help tools, including mobile apps are provided in this section of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
  • Counseling Options for Service Members and Their Families This web page from Military OneSource provides a list of options for in-person, web-based, and phone counseling for service members and their families.


  1. Meadows, S. O., Engel, C. C., Collins, R. L., Beckman, R. L., Cefalu, M., Hawes-Dawson, J., ... & Williams, K. M. (2015). 2015 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey (HRBS). Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from:

  2. Greenberg, N., & Jones, N. (2011). Optimizing mental health support in the military: The role of peers and leaders. In A.B. Adler, P. D. Bliese, & C. A. Castro (Eds.), Deployment psychology (pp. 69-101). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

  3. Department of the Navy (June, 2016). Combat and operational stress. U.S. Navy OPVAVIST 6520.1A. Retrieved from:

  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (May,2017). Depression. Retrieved from: