By: Aleha Landry
It is no secret that military mental health is a problem. Suicides are at record highs. Over half of those who take their own life have been in for Mental Health help within the 90 days prior to suicide. This problem, and the mitigating factors such as depression, anxiety, work or home issues, etc, contribute to the far-reaching problems within a unit, not to mention the trauma of losing a friend.
My husband struggles with persistent depression and suicidal ideation. As his spouse, I watch him walk through situations, struggles, and everyday life in ways that his leadership and co-workers simply cannot. I see things more in depth than his providers, simply because I spend more time with him than they do, as they only see him for one hour per session and a session may only be once every month or two. Spouses are integral in helping to win this fight.
I notice when something is off or if behaviors are not typical. I can sense if something is not right based on body language, level of engagement, how much he is sleeping, or other cues that others cannot. Spouses typically can “just know” when something is off because of how well we know our partner. There is an intuition that comes with living with someone.
Because of this, I believe that spouses and significant others are key to fighting the mental health and suicide epidemic in our service men and women. Spouses need a soft place to land when our loved ones are waging an internal war that can wreak havoc on us and our children. This is what I have advocated for through my op-ed pieces and subsequent discussions with Air Force and Space Force leadership. So far, leadership has been listening, and they are working to place me on the Air Force Resilience Committee, the committee charged with tackling the growing problem of suicide and underlying components.
Spouses need to be included when a member presents with mental health problems or a mental health crisis. Home lives are affected, plain and simple, and providing support to the day in and day out caretakers is essential if effective care for members is to be given. Through my husband’s ordeal, I have not spoken to one of his providers, been given any resources from our mental health clinic, or been contacted by anyone related to mental health or his command regarding the situation. He was placed in an eight-week partial hospitalization program in January.
Spouses should not be put into a situation like this. Our military members in crisis need all the help and support they can get, and as someone who lives in this place, I also need some support and tools to know the best way to help. Someone in a critical place can be more easily triggered and, as a spouse, I often unintentionally trigger. I feel like I am feeling my way around in the dark. If there is a situation that arises, I do not have a way to contact his on base provider; I do not even know that individual’s name.
The military as a whole needs to improve the way that mental health is addressed. If a service member must have surgery, the hospital ensures that someone else will drive them home, stay with them, and signs to look out for that indicate infection or other complication. That approach should be standard procedure when dealing with mental health issues, too. Even a simple handout of what to expect would be a great place to start.