This past week a major study focused on mental health and military spouses was released in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study indicates that military spouses who have been through one or more deployments have an elevated risk of being diagnosed with a mental health problem. The problems cited in the study are depression, sleep disorders, anxiety and other stress related issues.
I was talking with a good friend of mine about the study and she said “Well isn’t this obvious!?” Yes, it is to those of us who are within the military community. It’s obvious to others too. I am assuming this study will help to justify additional mental health support for the families of our military members. The study was done using electronic data, and I have not read the whole study to see if there was any qualitative interviews done. I am much more interested in what the wives have to say than what their electronic data indicates.
Ultimately there are things we can do as wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, etc. When we know deployment is inevitable we can plan to proactively deal with issues by:
1. Ensuring we have a strong network of support — not just those around us who are our obvious supports. Remember your granny’s old saying “Don’t put your eggs in one basket?” The same applies here. Be sure you have a broad and diverse network. Get involved in a church, in a community group, and with other like minded individuals.
2. If you are already struggling with depression and sleep disorder issues talk with your physician now about how to manage if/when the exacerbation of your symptoms occurs. Don’t wait until your depression bottoms you out! Some forms of depression are a life long illness and need to be treated like any other disease — such as diabetes. Treat it daily!
3. I know I preach a lot about this, but physical exercise can make such a huge difference in your ability to cope. Your body expends nervous energy, you feel better, you sleep better and your confidence grows as you gain strength and health. Check with your physician first if you are not already an active person. Even if all you can do is walk around the mall, find a partner, make a plan and hold one another accountable.
4. Know your weaknesses. It takes a good deal of honest self-awareness and assessment, but you know what your weaknesses are. Do you tend to overeat when you are stressed? Do you spend too much money to distract yourself from the stress? Do you isolate yourself? How do you deal with your anger? Ask your spouse to help you figure out ways to cope and deal with the loss of his direct support in areas where you struggle.
These are just a few ways to prepare yourself for the long journey ahead.
Here’s a snipped from an article in the News and Observer about the research
BY MARTHA QUILLIN - STAFF WRITER
Military wives often try not to complain, but a large-scale study published today suggests that they have a right to, citing elevated rates of depression, sleep disorders, anxiety and other mental-health problems among women whose husbands were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The study looked at electronic medical data for more than 250,000 of the nearly 300,000 women whose active-duty husbands were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006. It appears in the New England Journal of Medicine and was Alyssa J. Mansfield’s doctoral dissertation at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“The results that we found won’t come as a surprise to Army leaders,” said Mansfield, who is now a researcher at RTI International. “It’s probably something they have assumed. But it’s an opportunity to kind of quantify what’s going on.”
While the Army relies heavily on family readiness groups to support spouses and families while soldiers are deployed, Katter felt more comforted by her church. Eventually, she started Christian Military Wives, a faith-based support group.
For the study, Mansfield and other researchers worked with the medical records of women whose husbands had been on active duty for at least five years as of Jan. 1, 2007. Researchers did not include military husbands in the study for statistical reasons. The study did not include members of the reserves or the National Guard.
The results are likely conservative, Mansfield said, and an even larger percentage of women probably have experienced mental-health issues connected to their husbands’ wartime service. READ MORE