Military families are no strangers to mental health issues. The recent events in Afghanistan, coupled with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, further fuel the anxiety, depression, and fear already exacerbated by the military lifestyle. Are we currently doing enough to talk about and address such issues? As a military spouse who struggles with my mental health, I recognize the need to raise awareness amongst our community.
I currently work as a nurse serving children with mental health, developmental, and behavioral diagnoses, along with discipline issues. My nursing background also includes working in an outpatient psychiatry clinic, inpatient psychiatry ward, and a Veterans Affairs hospital. These experiences allow me to analyze my personal mental health, those of military members, and their families, from a unique perspective. I am a military spouse, mother, and nurse who struggles with anxiety, bouts of depression, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Unfortunately, there is a long-standing stigma surrounding mental health issues, and people are hesitant to discuss them out loud. If we can more openly discuss mental health, we can better serve those who fight the battle. A study conducted in 2017 by the DOD found military spouses experience higher rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and unemployment than our civilian counterparts. As military spouses, do we also experience more stigma associated with mental health than those in the civilian world? Are we afraid that our own struggles could negatively impact the career of our active-duty members?
Changing the stigma within the military and amongst military spouses requires change from all levels within the chain of command. If those experiencing mental health issues feel comfortable talking openly and seeking care, then maybe more people will listen. If spouses advocate for each other and our loved ones to promote mental health resources and access to resources, perhaps those at the top will advocate for actual change throughout the military.
The military lifestyle of constant change, endless new environments, and certain uncertainties lends itself to being the perfect trigger for mental health conditions. Everyone has different experiences, none of which should be considered more or less important than another. Just as we are all unique, we all have individual mental health needs.
The reality of living with mental issues in the military is this: people expect to hear about soldiers experiencing PTSD, war injuries, battle scars, substance abuse, and the risk of suicide. People do not always recognize the burdens military spouses face, nor the increasing mental health issues that accompany the lifestyle. We too face daily battles, have wounds, and scars. As military spouses, we can make a difference by advocating for our own community to bring much needed attention to this matter.
The Way Forward
When we take care of others, we tend to neglect our self-care, and personal mental health. We need to stand up for ourselves in order to support our spouses, families, and troops. There is a fine line to balance between mission-readiness and our own mental-readiness to support the mission.
Do you wonder how you can help others? Offer support to someone by simply checking in regularly. Ask another military spouse how they are. Use your social media platforms to spread awareness for mental health and wellness. Volunteer on base or in the community for a related cause. Let’s talk openly and honestly with family, loved ones, friends, neighbors, and ourselves.
We have to be the voice and change we wish to see in the military community. Please join me on October 10, 2021 to recognize World Mental Health Day in an effort to raise awareness, change the stigma, and offer a new mental health reality to our military spouses and families. Our military works hard to defend our freedom. We should work just as hard to advocate for the mental health of our troops, spouses, families, and veterans