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Depression in the Military Research Paper

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Document Type:Research Paper


The Military and Mental Health


The military provides an opportunity for men and women to serve their country. However, in the conduct of that service there are certain risks that can damage the mental health of military servicemen. Those risks can be associated with PTSD incurred from situations in combat, abuse, drug addiction, or lack of a positive value system that causes a soldier to deteriorate from within as he has nothing beyond his duty in the military to give him meaning or to sustain him through the long hours, months and years. Some servicemen go to their doctors for assistance and end up being overprescribed medications that only exacerbate their issues and further the decline of their mental health (Snow & Wynn, 2018). If not treated, service-related depression can lead to suicide—and as Kang et al. (2015) show, suicide risk among veterans returning from the Middle East has been increasing exponentially in recent years. One way that leaders have been trained to deal with military service-related depression is through the use of positive psychology and resiliency training (Reivich, Seligman & McBride, 2011). This paper will discuss a more positive way to treat mental health issues such as service-related depression among military servicemen and will include a discussion of positive psychology theories as well as spiritual factors from a biblical worldview.


Service-related depression is common among servicemen in today’s military in spite of the core values and vision that military leaders promote and teach to new recruits and soldiers (Bonde et al., 2016). One of the major reasons for this is that soldiers lack resilience—i.e., the ability to bounce back from adversity. Instead of taking a mental or emotional hit and bouncing back, they stay down and develop depression, mired in a pit of self-doubt, negative thoughts and feelings, and isolation (Reivich et al., 2011). Depression is particularly dangerous in the military because servicemen tend to seek ways to self-medicate, whether through prescription drugs given them by military doctors or by alcohol. This creates, however, a recipe for a downward spiral that can cause further mental health problems.

The key to treating depression in the military is to acknowledge and to understand what is causing it. For that reason, the Army has developed the Master Resiliency Training program (MRT), which focuses on the key aspects that have to be developed by soldiers so that they can maintain a positive frame of mind and increase their ability to bounce back when adversity strikes (Griffith & West, 2013). The MRT program is rooted in the theory of positive psychology put forward by Seligman: positive psychology focuses essentially on the art of human flourishing—i.e., on that which makes life worth living (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014). 

One of the big problems with soldiers in the military is that they have no sense of how to flourish as human beings. They have no real reason to live. They have no sense of why life is worth living. They have no sense of the value of life. They are in many ways like emptied-out vessels that are somehow still operating and going through the motions, but mentally and emotionally speaking they are dried up wells. In such shape, it is no surprise that so many servicemen end up becoming depressed during their time in the military: they are devoting themselves to a service, which necessarily entails a degree of self-sacrifice, and yet they do not understand the noble ideal or value in such service. When they fail to find a mental or emotional stimulus or reward for their work (that is to say, they enter into the “dark night of the soul”), they end up in a state of depression with no way of getting out.

The spiritual factors of depression can include a loss of hope, a loss of faith, or a loss of a sense of charity or love—i.e., the sense of or value in showing empathy, sympathy or care to other persons (Bonelli, Dew, Koenig, Rosmarin & Vasegh, 2012). Faith, hope and charity are also known as theological virtues, which means they are ultimately related to the essence of God. Faith is rooted in the memory and is based on reason: one hears the message of salvation and responds by believing; hope is rooted in the desire and helps to motivate the will, which is where love is rooted. Love is an act of the will and it depends upon hope (as opposed to despair), that is to say it depends upon the belief (the faith) that there is something good awaiting the good in the next life. These three spiritual virtues help to keep people from becoming completely materialistic and seeing life as meaningless (Bonelli et al., 2012). Through the promotion of these spiritual factors, one can refrain from falling into the pit of depression.

However, even if one is aware of spirituality or has spirituality, it is no guarantee that one will not struggle with depression. Some people may have a melancholic personality or disposition: they will tend to focus on their feelings and thoughts more than people who have other personalities or dispositions—such as the phlegmatic temperament or the sanguine or choleric temperaments. Too much melancholia, though, can be bad for the mind and heart and a soldier who is melancholic may quickly find himself struggling with depression and unable to get out of it. This is one reason melancholic personalities are often attracted to sanguine personalities: sanguine people are very outgoing and typically full of mirth. Their personality is a natural complement to the melancholy personality. The former helps to bring the latter out of himself and the latter helps to keep the former from…

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…St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). To comfort others is to be comforted by God, and to wallow in one’s own depression is to avoid all comfort and to close oneself off from God’s grace.

St. Peter also has words that cut to the heart of what it means to suffer for Christ: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). To be a Christian means to accept suffering in whatever form it comes. It means being willing to submit to the pains that come one’s way to and to accept them as though a gift from God. Suffering can draw one nearer to God because it has a way of separating man from the attachments to this world that do not actually facilitate him on his path or journey to Heaven. Suffering can thus be seen as a cleansing mechanism that allows one to pull away from the things of the world and to focus more on the things of God. As St. Augustine put it in City of God, there are two cities—the city of man, which focuses wholly on material happiness—and the city of God, which focuses on the things of God, the cultivation of virtue, and union with Christ. One must choose which city he is going to live in: the former leads inevitably to death; the latter contains in it the promise of live everlasting. For the suffering soul, the latter choice should be the most attractive one.


Depression can be a serious affliction for soldiers in the military. Many soldiers and veterans returning from service in the Middle East suffer from serious mental health issues. For some it stems from trauma, while for others it stems from a lack of faith, hope and charity—i.e., a religious conviction that a greater good exists and that God is there watching over one in spite of all the suffering one might feel every day. Treating depression is important because if untreated it can cause a person to slip into isolation and even into suicidal behavior. Positive psychology theory and the theory of the hierarchy of needs are two ways that many find to be helpful in treating depression. The Army itself has incorporate positive psychology into its MRT training programs to help soldiers become more resilient. From a Biblical perspective…

Sample Source(s) Used


Bonde, J. P., Utzon-Frank, N., Bertelsen, M., Borritz, M., Eller, N. H., Nordentoft, M., ... & Rugulies, R. (2016). Risk of depressive disorder following disasters and military deployment: systematic review with meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 208(4), 330-336.

Bonelli, R., Dew, R. E., Koenig, H. G., Rosmarin, D. H., & Vasegh, S. (2012). Religious and spiritual factors in depression: review and integration of the research. Depression research and treatment, 2012.

Casey Jr, G. W. (2011). Comprehensive soldier fitness: A vision for psychological resilience in the US Army. American Psychologist, 66(1), 1.

Dolphin, K. E., Steinhardt, M. A., & Cance, J. D. (2015). The role of positive emotions in reducing depressive symptoms among Army wives. Military Psychology, 27(1), 22-35.

Griffith, J., & West, C. (2013). Master resilience training and its relationship to individual well-being and stress buffering among Army National Guard soldiers. The journal of behavioral health services & research, 40(2), 140-155.

Kang, H. K., Bullman, T. A., Smolenski, D. J., Skopp, N. A., Gahm, G. A., & Reger, M. A. (2015). Suicide risk among 1.3 million veterans who were on active duty during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Annals of epidemiology, 25(2), 96-100.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370.

Reivich, K. J., Seligman, M. E., & McBride, S. (2011). Master resilience training in the US Army. American Psychologist, 66(1), 25.

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