Depression is a word we often use to describe our feelings or moods. Most of us will feel 'down', 'blue', 'fed up' or 'sad' from time to time. Such feelings are a normal part of the emotional ups and downs of everyday life. Depression is quite different to these types of feelings. It lasts longer, and is accompanied by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness of an intensity that has a strong negative effect on your day-to-day life. Depression is not only about feelings or emotions, it also affects the way you think and behave.

The term 'depression' covers a range of depressive disorders. Depression can range from mild to severe, and may also occur as part of a bipolar mood disorder. Some people will experience consistent feelings of low mood for two years or more (dysthymia), but not have symptoms severe enough to be diagnosed with major depression. Major depression is characterised by a persistently low mood and/or a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, with a number of additional symptoms, lasting for more than two weeks.

Don't be afraid to talk about how you are feeling; letting others know can be the first step on the road to recovery. Remember, depression is an illness that can be overcome.

Depression fact sheet (PDF, 827.57 KB)


Depression can present with a range of signs or symptoms, some of which may include:

  • loss of interest in pleasurable and fun activities,
  • a lack of joy in your life,
  • feeling sad or irritable most of the time,
  • changes in sleeping patterns,
  • worrying,
  • negative thinking,
  • feeling unworthy or helpless, as if you are a burden to others,
  • feeling tired all the time,
  • feeling like everything is a major effort.

It is probably the relentless feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt and anxiety accompanying depression that make it so difficult to cope with. Sometimes things can get so bad that a person may consider self harm or suicide. It is important to make sure you talk about these feelings and find a different solution or answer to your pain.

Depression in the ADF

From the findings of the 2010 ADF Mental Health Prevalence and Well-being Study, it has been estimated that 6.4% of the ADF will have had a depressive episode in the previous 12 months, and that the rates of depressive episodes are similar across genders, Services and deployed and non-deployed personnel. However, young ADF men and women between the ages of 18 and 37 show higher rates of depressive disorders compared to the broader Australian community.

The average age that ADF members first experience a depressive episode is 27 years, and the average time it takes for individuals to seek treatment is approximately 4 years. Trauma exposure is a known risk factor for depression within the ADF, and the risk increases with higher numbers of traumas. Traumatic experiences most closely associated with a diagnosis of depression include interpersonal traumas such as being stalked and domestic violence (for women), and accidents or other unexpected events such as natural disaster (for men).


A diagnosis of depression does not automatically preclude a member from deploying provided they have been effectively treated and have been free of symptoms for a specified period of time. Defence conducts an assessment of the risks associated with particular operations and some operations may not be suitable for a member experiencing specific health conditions. Assessment of suitability for future deployments is carried out on an individual basis.


Treatment for depression typically consists of therapeutic interaction between an experienced professional and the member, family, couple, or group, and/or prescribed medication.
Depression may also be helped by simple lifestyle changes and to changes to the way you think about yourself, your world and your life. You may like to use some of the following strategies to help yourself:

  • maintain a healthy lifestyle - eat nutritious meals and exercise regularly,
  • learn controlled breathing and relaxation techniques,
  • limit your alcohol and caffeine intake,
  • try to ensure you get enough sleep,
  • schedule time to relax or unwind.

Getting help

In an emergency situation call 000.

Your chain of command is a primary resource that can provide advice, referral and support. Other than in an emergency, you can also contact your local ADF Health Centre, Mental Health Professional, Chaplain, or the Duty Officer/Officer of the Day for immediate assistance and referrals.

Contact details for accessing services and support can be found on the Garrison Health Centres page and the Helplines page. To learn more about depression, you can access some of the websites listed under 'Further Information' (below). A range of web-based and smartphone self-help apps for depression can be found on the Web and Mobile Apps page.