We can no longer ignore the mental health of our military spouses
Military spouses feel increasingly ignored and forgotten as the pandemic forces them to spend more time away from their partners without adequate support.
Military families and couples have always been accustomed to the strains of living away from each other, but could always depend on the rigidity of military life to know when they would be reunited with loved ones. Covid-19 has upturned life for everyone, but the experiences of our military spouses have been particularly challenging. The lack of national solidarity toward those who give so much to our nation has left many feeling isolated.
The Department of Defense estimates the number of US military spouses at over one million. Military spouses are typically younger, less wealthy and more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the US population. This is a sacrifice that these families make to serve the nation but which leaves them particularly exposed to mental health problems and often away from their social support networks.
92% of active-duty spouses are female with an average age of 31.5 years and 74% have children. Just under one-quarter of military spouses are unemployed, much higher than the 2018 national average. Further, spouses who are working earn on average 25% less than their civilian counterparts.
A Thrive Talk study conducted with 197 military spouses from all military forces found that 84% had increased feelings of isolation since the start of Covid-19, yet only 23% reached out for third-party mental health support.
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53% of spouses suffer from reduced visiting opportunities if their partner lives on base, and just under 55% have had training or deployment schedules impacted.
American society’s broad ignorance of these issues was evident in the spouses’ answers. When asked to describe how they felt about the way they were viewed by those outside of the military, the majority (66%) described their emotions as ‘forgotten’ or ‘ignored’ .
Feelings of isolation are also exacerbated by the military command’s focus on the enlisted partner, rather than their spouse and family. While the military, on the whole, does an amazing job, it is very easy to fall through the cracks of support and out of sight. The majority of spouses stated that the military was either not responding appropriately to Covid-19 or was only prioritising the safety of their enlisted partner.
Thrive Talk’s conversations with military spouses also highlighted some heartbreaking accounts of experiences during Covid-19 lockdowns. The survey learnt of missed births, young families abandoned overseas without their spouse or support network and even an individual who has now not seen their father in over two years.
One respondent summed up their experience in an emotional and passionate denouncement of their experience this year:
“Impacts of Covid and the ripples it has caused in our Overseas move made us feel worthless and meaningless. My spouse’s over a decade of service means absolutely nothing to anyone. […] Why should we continue to sacrifice with blood, sweat, and tears, when we feel like that sacrifice is not valued by those who could exact change. We desperately need leadership […] so that the family will be able to more freely and willingly give of their spouse.” – Anonymous Respondent, Thrive Talk Military Spouse Survey 2020.
As we come to the end of 2020, we are likely to see an even greater increase in mental health symptoms while access to traditional sources of face-to-face help will remain restricted. A recent study found that, particularly in the case of military veterans, remote therapy services are just as effective as traditional in-person sessions and overcome many of the barriers that military veterans and their families currently face. Details of online resources can be found below.
Several resources are also available online, in some cases as a supplement to seeking professional help.
For families in need, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Make a Connection website is a valuable resource putting families and veterans in contact with local service providers and support networks.
Help can also be found from Military One Source and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Informal social support groups are also available on social media, Thrive Talk recommend the following Facebook Groups:
US Coast Guard Spouses
USMC girlfriend’s, Fiancee’s, and wives support group
U.S. Navy Spouses & Significant Others
This article is for general information only. It does not amount to advice which you should rely on and is not in any way an alternative to professional advice.We strongly encourage you to reach out for the relevant professional or specialist advice we have referenced in this article.If you or someone you know is at a point of crisis, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.