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Major Depressive Disorder

Sadness is unavoidable, but intense and persistent feelings of sadness may be indicative of major depressive disorder. Veterans suffering from MDD may be eligible to receive disability benefits through the VA.

Page Last Updated
July 27, 2022

Feeling sad is a natural part of life. It is common to feel sad after certain events, including the death of a loved one, divorce, or the loss of a job resulting in financial strain. Sadness is typically inevitable.

While many fear feeling sad, the feeling usually goes away at some point. However, if you’re experiencing intense feelings of sadness that last long periods, this may indicate major depressive disorder.

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    What is major depressive disorder?

    Major depressive disorder (MDD) is also called clinical depression. MDD can affect every aspect of a sufferer’s life, including their ability to live normally and sleep through the night.

    Some of the most common symptoms of MDD include the following:

    • Persistent sadness
    • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
    • Irritability
    • Mood swings
    • Problems with sleep, including sleeping too much or insomnia
    • Feeling tired and fatigued
    • Reduced appetite and weight loss
    • Increased appetite and weight gain
    • Feelings of guilt
    • Anxiety
    • Issues with memory
    • Unexplained physical ailments
    • Frequent thoughts of suicide/attempts at suicide

    A physician or psychologist may diagnose a patient with major depressive disorder if they exhibit multiple symptoms of MDD on most days. These symptoms can have life-altering impacts and make everyday tasks and responsibilities challenging.

    Why do veterans have major depressive disorder?

    Service members don’t suffer from just physical injuries — their injuries can also be psychological.

    While many associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with service members and veterans, major depressive disorder is extremely common — so common that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes MDD as a service-connected disability. 

    Veterans experience major depressive disorder for many reasons, some of the most typical being the following:

    • Experiencing traumatic events during active duty
    • Loss of a friend in combat
    • Witnessing the aftermath of a bombing or other significant event
    • Difficulties with transitioning back to civilian life
    • Facing a serious physical ailment or chronic pain from an injury
    • Suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)

    A recent study found the rate of depression to be five times higher in veterans than in civilians.

    Is major depressive disorder the same as depression?

    Depression does not have one definition. There are several different types of depression, including:

    • Persistent depressive disorder
    • Manic depression
    • Psychotic depression

    Major depressive disorder is just one of many types of depression. The different types of depression share some symptoms, such as feelings of sadness. But other symptoms, along with the severity of the condition, may differ.

    How is major depressive disorder diagnosed?

    There are multiple ways to diagnose major depressive disorder.

    First, your doctor may ask you certain questions to help determine whether MDD may be causing your physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms. They may also ask about your family history, as mental health conditions can run in a person’s family.

    The doctor may perform a physical exam to rule out any health concerns. They may find a link between depression symptoms and underlying physical problems.

    Along the same route, your physician may recommend lab testing. Lab tests can provide answers regarding the status of your health. Certain health issues, like thyroid and hormone problems, can produce symptoms similar to major depressive disorder.

    A mental health or psychiatric evaluation may be necessary. During an evaluation, a mental health professional asks about your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, physical symptoms, and everyday life. A thorough evaluation can provide helpful insight.

    If you believe you may be suffering from major depressive disorder, discuss it with your physician. Your doctor may engage in some testing, or they may refer you to a psychiatrist to ensure you receive a proper diagnosis.

    How is major depressive disorder treated?

    While major depressive disorder is a serious mental health concern, there are many effective treatment options. Some of the most common treatments for MDD are as follows.

    Therapy

    Mental health therapy is one of the most frequently used methods for treating MDD. Therapy requires regular visits with a psychiatrist, therapist, or other mental health professional.  During therapy sessions, you can express your thoughts and feelings with your therapist. Your therapist can then give you professional guidance and offer ways to help you cope with these thoughts and feelings. There is no set duration a person suffering from MDD can expect to need therapy. Perhaps a few sessions will give you the help you need; in many cases, continued therapy is beneficial.  Therapy sessions can be as often as several times a week or as little as once a month, depending on what you need and what your therapist recommends.

    Medication

    Antidepressants are prescription medications that physicians use to treat depression. An antidepressant works to alter the brain’s chemistry and help relieve the feelings and symptoms associated with depression.

    Medications for MDD can take a few weeks before producing a noticeable difference. Some medications can also cause side effects. It’s best to discuss the right antidepressant with your healthcare provider.

    Alternative Medicine

    Some people may find relief from MDD symptoms in alternative medicine. Types of alternative medicine include acupuncture and hypnosis.

    Self-Help

    Some patients see improvement in symptoms of MDD by employing healthy habits, such as the following:

    • Regular exercise
    • Healthy eating
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Journaling
    • Meditation 
    • Spending time with family and friends

    These self-help methods can also be beneficial in conjunction with other treatments like medication or therapy.

    Is major depressive disorder eligible for VA disability?

    The VA offers disability benefits for veterans who suffer from an illness or injury related to their time in the military. Veterans may qualify for disability benefits for physical or mental health conditions that developed before, during, or after their service.

    To be eligible for VA disability benefits, both of the following must be true:

    • You have a current condition that affects your mind or body
    • You served in the military on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.

    Additionally, one of the following must also be true:

    • You suffered your illness or injury while serving in the military;
    • You had an illness or injury before you joined the military, and serving caused your condition to worsen
    • You suffer from a disability related to your service that did not appear until your time in the military ended

    Depression is on the list of conditions covered by VA disability benefits. To get disability benefits for MDD, veterans must prove a connection between their disorder and their time in the military.

    Page Last Updated
    September 12, 2022
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      VA Disability Ratings

      The amount a veteran can expect to receive in disability benefits depends on the disability rating. How severely the symptoms of MDD affect a veteran’s life and ability to function will influence this rating.

      VA disability ratings range from 0% to 100%. A 0% rating means a veteran may have MDD symptoms, but their ability to function normally is not impaired. A 100% rating means the veteran cannot function in everyday life. 

      For example, if a veteran’s disability rating is 30% for their MDD, their monthly VA disability payment would be approximately $467.39. If they were to have a higher rating of 80%, they could get $1,778.43. Other factors also affect monthly payments, including whether a veteran has dependents or a spouse.

      Page Last Updated
      September 12, 2022
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