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Mental Health and the Military: Reducing the Stigma
At a time when the national spotlight is on mental illness and its effects on families and individuals, it is important to educate ourselves to help end the silence and reduce the stigma around mental illness.
Mental illness is widely stigmatized. Adding to the already difficult reality of living with mental illness, service members often view treatment as a detriment to their military career. This is what often prevents them from seeking much needed therapy services. Families are also reluctant to seek treatment. The fear that seeking help will affect their spouse’s career or the people they know is something many military families experience. Many feel that they are already a burden after coming back from active duty and do not want to tax their family with further issues. Likewise, many spouses of those who served feel like their spouse is already struggling to cope with civilian life and getting treatment would burden them with their own issues. As a result, the struggles of mental illness become private and hidden.
Military families have real needs in terms of mental health in order to provide improved services for families, we need to remove many obstacles. Some examples include:
- Eliminate the barriers in providing families with mental health resources.
- Provide a seamless transition of care from active duty to civilian life.
- Provide an easier mechanism for military spouses in the mental health field to work with military families.
- Increase and improve education about mental health issues.
- Support the transition from deployment to reintegration as well as the transition from military to civilian life for our service members and families.
- Offer support to family members who have a service member who has been injured and are now serving as their caregiver.
PTSD Can be Silent
For many people their first encounter with someone suffering from PTSD is when their spouse returns from activity duty and reintegrates into civilian life. One of the biggest issues with PTSD is not how someone acts when they are in public, but how they act as they suffer from it when no one else is around.
Sometimes it is hard to see the signs that someone is suffering from PTSD. You may think that your spouse or loved one is not acting quite like themselves when they write or call you and have a conversation. Perhaps they act out with angry statements over something seemingly insignificant or have trouble sleeping. Other signs of PTSD that are often missed include outbursts of anger, depressive behavior, or sleeping for several days in a row. Many people want to think that their loved one needs time to adjust and the behavior is a result of having to adjust to a new lifestyle, but many are silently suffering from PTSD from their time during deployment.
If you find yourself thinking that the withdrawal is from adjusting to a new life or lack of sleep is caused by the time difference or stress, it may be something bigger than that. Your loved one may be hesitant or unwilling to talk about what they are feeling because they too are unaware of what is going on beyond their control or they see it as a detriment to their military career.
The best advice to keep in mind is to watch. Simply observe your loved one. Has their sleeping pattern changed? Have they become withdrawn or depressed? Have they started to isolate themselves from their friends and family? Are they having trouble with their memory? All those things can be warning signs of PTSD. PTSD can be the silent secret that you aren’t even sure is there. It can be a quiet ordeal your spouse may be living with every day, but not saying anything about. If you suspect something is wrong, talk to them. Express your concerns and reassure them that you are there for them in any way they need.