Every little thing, from the endless crying of the baby to one dish being out of place, caused me to fly into a rage. When I wasn’t angry, I was deeply sad and sobbing. The walls felt like they were closing in and my chest felt tight. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see a way out of the deep hole of depression.
It felt like I just couldn’t admit I was weak or that I needed help. I’d heard all of those saying about military spouses and strength. I was supposed to be the backbone of our family, keeping it all together when everything was falling apart.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed, out of sorts or just generally not yourself mentally and emotionally?
You are not alone. Approximately 30% of military spouses suffer from mental illness.
After I had my first child, I went deep into the postpartum depression rabbit hole. I didn’t want to upset the delicate balance of our lives, so I delayed seeking help until it was so severe I couldn’t function in my daily life.
Instead of talking about it, I drank much more than I should have. I used exercise to relieve stress obsessively. My weight and running times became unhealthy fixations. Most of all, I’m only just now, years later, realizing just how bad it was and how far I had gone. I’m so thankful I was able to claw my way out.
While I’m mostly “better” I will always struggle with mental health and I know that. I’m anxious about nonsense things or blow trivial matters out of proportion. Jumping to the worst possible scenario is pretty common for me in most challenging situations. I am painfully aware of what I say and how it could come across. There is a constant worry about how I might be perceived.
There is a stigma for military spouses struggling with mental health.
“How can that be? You’re literally telling the whole entire world about your struggles,” you might ask. You wouldn’t be wrong either.
But writing is different than in-person sharing. I’m hidden behind a screen and these words are typed not spoken.
Military spouses who struggle with mental health often remain hidden. After all, we must be the backbone, the support system, for our whole family. We are the constant for our children who are often missing their other parent. Military spouses must handle everything that comes their way, mostly far from home and with an often-rotating support network of friends.
There is no fallback plan, no option for retreat. So most of us slog onward, dealing with our emotional battles in any way we can.
We self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. According to a recent study, almost 70% of military spouses had an alcoholic drink during a given month. Over 30% of those who drank were binge drinking. Others were smoking pot or using illegal drugs. Of course, some of these substances could have been used recreationally. But many military spouses drown their sorrows with a few glasses of wine or several beers every night.
You don’t want to talk about it or ask for help. There could be the perception of weakness or of taking needed resources away from deployable troops. Asking for help could draw unwanted attention or scrutiny to yourself, it could cause your service member to lose focus on the mission. Above all, you are supposed to be able to handle this.
There is no shame in asking for help.
I know this now. There are places to seek help readily available through “official” channels as well as completely confidential outlets.
A great place to start is with your chaplain or the Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC) assigned to your duty station or unit. Chaplains serve all members of the military community. There are religious leaders from all sects and faith backgrounds, Christian and non-Christian alike. If you are religious, starting here could be a positive first step.
MFLCs are available to all military service members and their dependents. There are MFLCs assigned to all bases, with many locations hosting multiple counselors. Contact your unit FRO to connect with your local MFLC. Your sessions are off the books completely. Literally, no notes can or will be taken at any time. There is no record of what you discuss or even that you have been counseled. Best of all, many MFLCs keep flexible hours and can meet you both on and off base.
Another option is to seek counseling services through Military OneSource. Simply call the hotline and ask to speak to a representative about mental health counseling. There are a few criteria in place in order to receive services, but they try their best to meet your needs.
I used this service in 2014 and 2015 for postpartum depression. I was able to see a therapist just a few blocks from my home during evening hours, which made it super convenient for me. Best of all, this was 100% cost-free.
For those who need something other than talk therapy, please seek help from a medical professional. If you use Tricare, your PCM can provide at least an initial diagnosis and treatment plan. Your doctor might refer you to a specialist or other medical professional to seek further treatment for your specific mental health concerns.
I also used this route. My PCM was quickly able to diagnose me with postpartum depression and prescribed me anti-depressants to help regulate my emotions.
I know now that true strength comes from seeking help when needed, and offering help to those in need. No matter who you see first, if you are suffering from mental illness, prolonged sadness, thoughts of self-harm or other mental health concerns, please seek help right away. There is no shame in asking for help.