By Debbie Fryar
I was a young military spouse, and our family was suffering through our first deployment. I recall it all too vividly. My anxiety was overwhelming. Coupled with the awkward silence in our home, I felt deeply vulnerable and alone.
I have learned a lot since that first deployment several years ago. Most important, I know that I am never alone. Dedicated resources and individuals are available to help should I have questions, seek assistance or need to share mental health concerns.
Mental health affects how you handle stress, make decisions or relate to others. One of my best stress relievers was a hot pot of coffee or tea shared with a neighbor at the kitchen table. Conversation can be a helpful starting point, but some military families find they need more support.
Recent conflicts have shown that all family members - spouses, children, parents, siblings and significant others - experience an array of complex feelings, emotions and questions. The degree of uncertainty and unpredictability associated with deployments leads some family members to ask hard questions:
- Will my servicemember return?
- What will I do if my servicemember is injured?
- How will I handle the separation and the loneliness that comes with it?
- How will I handle the kids?
- How will our kids handle the separation from mommy or daddy?
- Will our finances hold out? How do I handle the tax returns?
- Does anyone understand what we are going through?
- Where can I turn for help?
These questions are normal and part of the deployment cycle. Mental health issues from post-traumatic stress disorder to domestic violence to increased divorce rates among servicemembers appear frequently in newspapers and news broadcasts.
The good news is that more families are recognizing that counseling can be an effective option to help deal with these issues. Families increasingly perceive counseling and mental health support as especially helpful if it is confidential and engaged with a professional familiar with the military. In the National Military Family Association's "Cycles of Deployment Survey Analysis," released in March 2006, one spouse who took the survey stated:
"Three deployments have caused great mental strain on me as the spouse of a servicemember. Thank goodness for mental health services, which I have used for more than a year now and will continue to use. I have to work daily on managing depression and anxiety..."
Assessing Your Own Mental Health
Military life, especially deployments and mobilizations, can present unique and difficult challenges to servicemembers and their families. We can successfully deal with many of them on our own. But sometimes matters get worse, and one problem can trigger other more serious concerns. At such times, it is wise to assess your own mental health. That's the purpose of the totally anonymous and voluntary self-assessments available at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org
The questions are designed so you can review your situation as it relates to some of the more common mental health issues. The screening will not provide a diagnosis - you would need to see a mental health professional - but it will tell you whether or not you have symptoms consistent with a condition that might benefit from further evaluation or treatment. It also will provide guidance to where you might seek assistance.
Whatever your concern, remember that people and resources are available to assist you - and that it is all right to ask for help. Some are available only to ID card-holders but many resources, especially community-based services, may be used by extended family members. You can always go to your chaplain or health care provider for counseling, the Family Service Center or State Family Assistance Center for referral to resources, or one of several other community or online resources.
Help In Your Community
If you can access a military installation, you can find deployment support programs offered through your installation family center: Army Community Services, Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers, Airman and Family Readiness Centers, Marine Corps Community Services and Coast Guard Work Life Offices. Some centers offer counseling services and support programs conducted by unit family support/readiness groups.
The Servicemember and Family Life Consultant is a new resource available at some installations and for some Guard and Reserve units. The program uses licensed clinicians with master's degrees and at least five years' experience in social work, counseling or related clinical disciplines. Consultants are trained in military specific topics such as the deployment cycle, chain of command and reporting requirements in accordance with service family advocacy programs. The program provides education and information on family dynamics, parenting, support services, and the effects of stress and positive coping mechanisms.
Military OneSource is a major DoD initiative aimed at supporting families during deployment and assisting with their adjustment. In addition to providing information, referral support and 24/7 access to trained counselors via telephone (from the U.S., 800-342-9647; international toll-free, 800-3429-6477; international collect, 484-530-5947) or Internet (www.militaryonesource.com), it also offers free face-to-face counseling in the family's community - up to six sessions, paid for by DoD - focusing on stress management and relationship issues.
The American Red Cross has counselors on staff at its chapter offices that know how to deal with stress and trauma. In some communities, local marriage and family therapists have offered to consult with military families on a voluntary basis.
Local mental health services are listed in the phone book's blue government pages. In your county government section, find a "Department of Health Services," "Health Services" or "Mental Health" section. In the yellow pages, look under "Counseling," "Mental Health," Psychologists," "Psychotherapists," "Social and Human Services" or "Social Workers."
Treatment of a medically diagnosed mental disorder may be covered by TRICARE or other health insurance plans. TRICARE beneficiaries may access up to eight sessions with an authorized mental health provider without prior authorization from their TRICARE contractor. For questions about your mental health coverage under TRICARE, contact your regional contractor via .
Courage to Care is an electronic health campaign consisting of fact sheets that deal with health topics relevant to military life. Courage to Care content is developed by leading military health experts from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (www.usuhs.mil/psy).
The Deployment Health Support Directorate was established by the DoD to ensure that medical lessons learned from previous conflicts and deployments are integrated into current policy, doctrine and practice. Current information on deployment-related health issues is published on an interactive web site, Deployment LINK (http://fhp.osd.mil/). The Directorate also operates a toll-free, direct hotline number where staff members answer deployment-related questions, locate lost medical records and provide contact information in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The number is 800-497-6261.
The Deployment Health and Family Readiness Libraryprovides servicemembers, families and healthcare providers a quick and easy way to find deployment health information. The website offers an assortment of fact sheets, guides and other useful products at http://deploymenthealthlibrary.fhp.osd.mil.
Veterans and Families Coming Home is a national non-profit community service and support organization, founded and directed by veterans, parents, grandparents, family members, employers, mental health professionals, academics and community leaders. Visit www.veteransandfamilies.org.
The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder strives to advance the clinical care and social welfare of America's veterans through research, education and training in the science, diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related disorders. Go to www.ncptsd.va.gov.