“Depression impacts readiness”: How mental health issues affect Soldiers, particularly women

WTU Force Structure According to the Centers for Disease Control, depression affects one in 10 U.S. adults. Reaching out is a sign of strength and the sooner service members and veterans reach out for treatment, the sooner they can recover. (Photo Illustration by SGT Michael Roach)

By Whitney Delbridge Nichels, Warrior Care and Transition


ARLINGTON, VA – Department of Defense health experts say approximately 13% of all deployed service members suffer from depression, and nearly 6% of those who have never deployed are dealing with the same.

According to data collected by Veteran’s Affairs, depression post-deployment is higher in women than men of veterans who deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The numbers mirror nationwide statistics from the Center for Disease Control which reports that 1 in 10 women 18 to 44 years old experienced symptoms of major depression in the past year.

Some of the factors that may put women at higher risk include stress, pregnancy, birth complications and low social support.

Depression is something the Army is constantly working to address says former Warrior Care and Transition Clinical Liaison Division Chief, Col. Travis Richardson.

“Depression impacts readiness across the military,” Richardson said.

In order for the Department of Defense to gain more traction on this front [reversing the far-reaching effects of depression], the most important step is eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health.

According to Richardson, some of the efforts to destigmatize depression include enterprise-wide training initiatives, additional resources for behavioral health professionals, and public affairs/strategic communications campaigns.

“Military service members see themselves as strong, resilient, and are mission focused; they do not want to let their fellow service members down,” Richardson said. “So, many service members have seen themselves as weak if they seek help for any mental health diagnosis.”

Richardson believes it is extremely important to address depression and take the symptoms seriously as this diagnosis is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality.

“There are resources within the military health system to include behavioral health services with psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers,” Richardson said. “In addition other support services includes support from military chaplains and Military OneSource, which is an excellent resource for service members and families.”