Last month we talked about PTSD and mental health of our service members. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones who need therapy. The all-too-familiar stressors of military life– such as deployments, separations, frequent moves and a feeling of isolation– can be a catalyst for psychological distress.
It’s normal. What isn’t normal is the barriers that stand in the way of receiving treatment for military spouses.
Three doctors with the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health and Sciences University did a study recently that examined why military spouses are underserved when it comes to mental health treatment. The study outlined 5 barriers military spouses face:
- inability to attend daytime appointments
- inability to find a counselor who understands their needs
- inability to find a counselor they could trust
- concerns about confidentiality
- lack of knowledge about where to get services
With at least 1 million spouses of active duty, Reserve or National Guard service members, this is highly unacceptable.
Let’s take a closely look at each barrier to mental health treatment for military spouses.
Barrier #1: Inability to Attend Daytime Appointments
Most military spouses are either working outside the home or have children. While spouses are quite resourceful, sometimes it’s not possible to get away in the middle of the day. Solution: Counselors should offer evening appointments or provide child care for clients. Another option, although nontraditional, counselors could make house calls and meet the client in their environment.
Barrier #2: Inability to Find a Counselor Who Understands Their Needs
Anyone who has sought mental health help knows how important it is to find a therapist or provider you connect with. Someone who understands your situation and can advise accordingly. This shouldn’t be difficult in military towns, but it can be particularly difficult for National Guard or Reserve families. Solution: Find a counselor you can connect with and educate them throughout your sessions. If that feels too daunting, check out MilitaryOneSource.mil and set up a phone or online counseling session with someone knowledgeable about the lifestyle. ALL members of the National Guard and Reserves and their immediate family members are eligible to use MilitaryOneSource.
Barriers #3 & 4: Inability to Find a Counselor They Can Trust & Concerns About Confidentiality
It’s not uncommon for individuals to be nervous about divulging a lot of personal information to a perfect stranger. Especially for individuals who have been drilled with the importance of OPSEC and PERSEC. On top of that, spouses worry that anything they say could be used against their spouse and damage their career. Talk about a barrier. Especially one that is completely irrelevant. Solution: Educate yourself.
MilitaryOneSource addresses this issue in their post about counseling options:
Family members may use counseling services without the notice or consent of the service member. For service members or their families seeking counseling through military support channels, those services are confidential. The only exceptions to confidentiality are for mandatory state, federal and military reporting requirements (for example, domestic violence, child abuse and duty to warn situations). Even then, only those who need to be notified will be informed.
Barrier #5: Lack of Knowledge About Where to Get Services
We’ve all be in a new place and feel completely lost about where to go to find anything. Mental health services shouldn’t be one of those things. It should be as easy to find as the closest grocery store. Solution: A one-stop shop for finding help. MilitaryOneSource does a great job of highlighting options on their website. Not only can they help you find local counselors, but they also outline when you should seek treatment through Tricare or your nearest Military Treatment Facility or VA Center. When in doubt, ask.
Bottom line: There’s absolutely no reason a spouse should go without treatment for a mental health issue, no matter how big or how small. Educate yourself and others on the opportunities and options available and help each other out.
We’re a strong military family. Let’s make sure we’re a healthy military family.
Why do you think military spouses are underserved when it comes to mental health treatment?