Confessions Of A Military Spouse: At Times 'Incapacitated With Sadness'

Payscale military spouse suicides

By Molly Blake


In April 2011, a young Army wife posted a chilling comment on her blog that began, "If you are reading this, you should know that I'm dead."

The 27-year-old woman continued, "at least I hope I'm dead ... it would be awful to fail at your own suicide."

The woman reportedly received treatment and didn't kill herself, and her blog post helped put the spotlight on a serious issue: the mental health issues of military spouses.

While there has been much written about the suicide rate among soldiers (in July 2012, 38 soldiers committed suicide -- more than died in Afghanistan that month), the suffering of military spouses has received relatively short shrift. That's changing. Blue Star Families, a nonprofit where I work, found in its recent annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey that a full 10 percent of military spouses admitted that they considered suicide. The spouse-suicide phenomenon is both underreported (10 percent of respondents also said they preferred not to answer the question) and unexplored. "There is obviously a problem there that our community should rally to find solutions to," says research director Dr. Vivian Greentree, who is also a military spouse.

As a military spouse, I'm not surprised by what Blue Star Families found. The typical military spouse is young, between the ages of 19 and 22, and since 9/11, 26 percent have endured deployments totaling 13 to 24 months. That's not including a spouse's training, field time away from home and other assignments. Sixteen percent have chalked up to three years of deployments.

The unemployment rate among military spouses is a staggering 28 percent and a whopping 62 percent say that their service member has exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress but chose not to seek treatment. And since just 1 percent of our nation shoulders the burden of war, it should come as no surprise that stress levels have pushed many to the brink.

More: 11 Things Not To Say To A Military Spouse

I can attest to the trying times not only during deployments but during the training and workups, during the weeks when my husband steps aboard an aircraft carrier and can't access his email.

My second daughter was born while my husband was in Iraq and on more than one occasion, I found myself nearly incapacitated with sadness. In those moments, I was lucky enough to find the strength to climb out of that dark place. Fortunately, my parents, having agreed to stay with me for a month after her birth, were never far away.

Not all military spouses have such support, so many of us are encouraged by digital tools being developed. One solution that is being hailed by doctors including Dr. Peter Bernstein, a clinical psychologist, as a "step in the right direction," is Facebook's online approach.

Fred Wolens, a spokesperson for the social media giant, says the crisis tool provides tailored military-related counseling information to military families. It works by allowing friends and family members to report a user who is exhibiting signs that they are struggling emotionally. The anonymous reports go up the chain where a team quickly determines if the threat is legit. "Facebook messages the user and reporter with links to national suicide prevention material," after which VA personnel can respond via phone, text or online chat.

"We know it's been used," said Wolens.

At Bernstein's Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy and Trauma Treatment in California, he and his team advocate for a holistic approach to treating mental illness. He says "there is hope for military spouses who are isolated and suffering," and applauds the online efforts to reach out during crisis.

Meanwhile nonprofits like Blue Star Families will continue to look for insight into this sensitive issue and encourage spouses in need to seek help. But perhaps more important is the day-to-day dealings that civilians have with military spouses and their perception that "milspouses" can manage deployments, separations, kids and houses without so much as breaking a sweat.

I don't know how many times a civilian friend has said to me 'I don't know how you do it,' " said Amy Bushatz, a military spouse and the managing editor of SpouseBUZZ. "We need our civilian friends to know that sometimes this is so hard that it can push us towards the breaking point."

"Not all crises are the end," added Dr. Bernstein. "It can be the beginning."


Warning Signs Of Suicide
The more of these signs that a person shows, the greater the risk.
  • Talking about wanting to die.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.


Molly Blake is a freelance writer and Marine Corps spouse. She writes about issues affecting military families. You can see her work at MollyBlake.com.





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17 Comments

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Insightc2

The numbers are rising. As a licensed Professional Counselor and a military wife myself, I am growing more concerned for the culture. I recently wrote a blog about what I am seeing happening to the spouses.

http://www.insightc2.net/index.php/military-spouse/thrive-as-a-military-wife/item/what-military-spouses-are-unwilling-to-say?category_id=72

June 27 2013 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tutu

What a sorry cry baby the author is. I was a military wife for 30 years. There were times during Viet Nam I did not hear from him for weeks on end. I gave birth to our oldest son while he was over seas and to the second one as well. I learned to deal with the car repairs, cutting the grass, paying the bills on time, etc. etc. etc. I also learned that self pity stinks and that I had to be strong and brave for the kids. Yes I had low times, but that would be at 3 in the morning when the kids were settled in their beds. In my personal opinion, if a woman marries a military man or he joins after the marriage, she had best be adult and know how to deal with life and not be a cry baby. There are so many lines of communication open to families at this time email is the biggest and best in my book. I have a son that is deployed right now and that is how we stay in touch. There are also phone calls and last but not least snail mail as well. The money is also much better then it was 40 years ago. I remember well the first check my husband got during basic...$47.50. I got a check for $100.'00. Yep this so called new line of military cry baby wives does not impress me at all........

March 28 2013 at 9:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Tutu's comment
sugarcreekchile

My son's are 16 years apart. My oldest served in the first Gulf War before e-mail so snail mail and the infrequent phone calls were all that was available. He's been married for 14 years with 3 children. A couple of years ago was deployed back to Iraq for almost a year. The communication has vastly improved. His wife, while concerned, managed quite well. In fact, she told me she'd always lived with her parents or had my son at home except for brief periods of a few weeks or months and that while she missed my son, she rather enjoyed having to function as an individual for once instead of in tandem with someone else.

My youngest son served on a submarine for 4 years. Phone calls were short and limited to when in port but e-mail was always available. He'd tell me when he knew I wouldn't hear from him for weeks but told me to keep sending him e-mails because even though they couldn't send, they could receive. We're both from an older generation where self-reliance was the norm, whining wasn't tolerated and anyone on their little pity pot wasn't coddled but told to suck it up.

March 29 2013 at 7:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tess

Tutu, You have the audacity to sit there and brag about how long you were a military wife. All the more reasons why you should be SUPPORTING other military wives, NOT bashing them. Mental illness is a very serious matter. People respond to depression and obstacles differently. You should be ashamed of yourself for writing such things!!!!!!!!

January 01 2014 at 1:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jandersonames

I have been a military wife for almost 25 years. I have given birth while my husband was deployed and endured the death of my mother while he was in Iraq. I have navigated the maze of military red tape for housing, health care and pay issues while my spouse was busy overseas. He has missed countless holidays and a few funerals. We have had to sometimes work through issues when he has returned from yet another deployment. Guess what? I don't feel sorry for myself at all. I married a soldier, not a civilian. Some of you may say I should realize not everyone is as strong as I am and have some compassion. The harder truth is if you aren't self reliant and independent you shouldn't marry into the military. And if you are married to a soldier/sailior/airman/marine and you are desperately unhappy - get a divorce.

March 28 2013 at 3:37 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Sherri M

I am in no way intending to offend the writer. But the means of communicating with your spouse that are available now stagger the mind of those of us from other 'wars'. Routine tours were one year in the states, one year 'in country' with no end date. No phone, no e-mail, no video calls, snail mail spotty at best. Isolation is tough, and the re-adjustment period when he comes home can last for months .The anxiety leading up to the next tour usually starts just about the time he's at ease being home, and you have a few 'normal' days. You are ostracized by the civilian community- regarded as a war monger and transient. You are viewed as living off the backs of tax payers and the sacrifices made by the service member and family are discounted out of hand. In my era, most of the men had the great difficulty accepting a wife that paid the bills, kept the house going, took care of the car and made life decisions ,every day. The wives had to struggle to keep him from treating the kids like his troops- and expecting them to obey him as his troops did. It's a life and culture that is not for every person, and the real stressors are seldom acknowledged. It was one of the most difficult periods in my life. And also one in which I have great pride.

March 28 2013 at 3:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sherri M's comment
gerrygulb

As a military brat and a military spouse I can certainly relate to your post. During the times my dad was in, money was very tight because pay was very low. We spent 13 years over seas and every time my dad went over and we couldn't go because we had to wait for housing. We had to ship the car early so we walked to where we needed to go or perhaps got a ride with friends. It was a very hard life. I had it much easier than my mother. Military spouses today have hardships, true, but they have no idea what wifes went through during Korea and Viet Nam. There was very little support given by the military and hardly none by the community.

March 28 2013 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
myastromeria1

it is a lonely life at times. the spouse is gone 9mos to yrs. you have to fend for you sometimes for the first times, then your other half comes back expecting to be the man of the house and your handling everything he is left out of all. he feels like he can't do a thing, He and you can't talk because you haven't spoken maybe for months. you have to learn of you each other again...it is not easy life... don't ever think it is.

March 28 2013 at 1:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Carolyn

Suicide is a little understood, rarely talked about problem that affects many including active duty military and their spouses. One of the best ways for the spouses to handle the stress is to be involved. While my wife was left behind with our children the many times that I was deployed she found that she felt better if she was involved with other wives, school, and the chapel. Sometimes she felt that she was almost too involved like when she ended up being the Key Wife for the Battalion, as I was the XO and our CO wasn't married. During Desert Storm she was the one other wives (both offices and enlisted) in the Battalion contacted with problems. Having been a Marine wife for over 20 years she tried to keep everyone involved by setting up family parties for the holidays, keeping everyone informed of classes that were available, working with the food bank to make sure that the young enlisted wives had the food they needed or were entitled to, setting up schedules to provide transportation to doctor appointments,the commissary, and religious activites. She also helped set up play dates and babysitting lists so that all the wives could find some free time. She did such a fine job that the Marine Corps even recognized her for all the work she did.

I have to pat my wife on the back for her own independence and willingness to share her experiences and knowledge with others. More than once she was left with the children to handle everything, including finding housing, doctors, and getting to know the area as I would be deployed before we could even get settled. The military is doing a better job of working with spouses now and as they continue to expand the help they will find that the loneliness and frustrations the spouses feel is slowing disappearing. It will never completely disappear as no one marries someone to be left behind all the time, but the stronger the marriage the easier it is for the spouses to carry on while the active duty personnel is gone.

March 28 2013 at 1:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Carolyn's comment
merkle5783

This is wonderful, if you are stationed at a base. If you are stationed remotely, or are a reserve/guard spouse, NONE of these services are available to you. Good luck finding anyone in the military to help you. Not even Military OneSource has a real live person to be there with you.

March 28 2013 at 2:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to merkle5783's comment
Carolyn

My wife would disagree with you. the base may not provide the activities and events for you, but there are always churches and schools where ever you are. Even reserve/guard spouses are given rosters of other spouses and information as to where you can get help. Life is what you make of it and my wife chose to be involved and do what was best for her, ouur family, and friends.

March 28 2013 at 6:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
Tutu

Two words and I will just use the initials....BS With a little backbone the help is there and can be found and had. There is also the idea that the military spouce should be an adult and know how to deal on her own as well as manage things. It is part of the job description.....

March 28 2013 at 9:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
jabaileydc

It seems that she's lacking a purpose in life. Why doesn't she enlist, herself?

March 28 2013 at 12:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jabaileydc's comment
Carolyn

If you are saying my wife didn't have a purpose in life, you are very wrong. She taught school and also helped get a SNAPPY program in Okinawa for our special needs daughter. Because she took an active part in her community and surroundings to help others doesn't mean she doesn't have a purpose.

March 28 2013 at 6:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
anonymous

Gee how about if your husband is also abusing you. Most military wives can't wait for their husbands to come home. I can't wait for mine to leave, so I can get some relief. Physical/verbal/emotional its all abuse.

October 31 2012 at 1:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to anonymous's comment
JustMyView

I feel for you, because the military will cover for the batterer, especially, when it's a service member and will even go as far as to blame the victim. I've been there! Moreover, imagine you're ALL black and blue and you are accused of assaulting someone who has no injuries; not even a scratch, yet, God is good and I put my full trust in Him and the fact that He is all knowing and will hold these perpetrators and their enablers/supporters to account.

March 28 2013 at 11:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tutu

You also have the way to deal with the abuse if you will just use it. I suggest that do a little research for the help that you apparently need. I also suggest that you grow a backbone and help yourself out as well.

March 28 2013 at 9:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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