Mental health problems in the military are pervasive, and spouses supporting struggling service members, like me, need the help and support of battle buddies to do what needs to be done.
It can feel lonely and it is a hard job, but there are ways to help.
My husband struggles with persistent depression and suicidal ideation. He is still on active duty and has gone through both military mental health care and services off base for help. But it has been a very long journey. It is very scary on several levels, including the effect on our relationship, repercussions on his career and being judged by others.
One of the major helps in this fight for both of us has been my husband's battle buddy. This friend is someone that he met while on a deployment, and he has supported my husband (and me!) through some of the darkest days of my spouse's depression. I firmly believe that he has made a lasting difference in this fight, namely because he and his wife have been there for us and have simply been our friends.
Everyone can benefit from a battle buddy, in most areas of their life. Here are some ideas that can be fun, but also offer a necessary lifeline for others. These tips work for supporting spouses living with struggling service members and for the service members themselves.
First, just be a friend. Call and check in. Give them a reason to get out of the house and go shopping or walk around the park and listen. The story may get heavy sometime, but it is important not to freak out or say negative things about the struggling service member. Just being present and willing to be there is a huge gift in a time like this. Spouses often feel guilt and shame over not being able to make this problem go away and struggle with opening up.
Second, check in on their spouse, significant other or children. They may need you to step in and offer to hang out in order to get a break and know that their loved one is safe. This has been a huge help to me. My husband's battle buddy will offer to come over or invite him over so I can have some space. And while they are together, I know my husband is safe.
Third, offer to do something together. Start a new hobby, take an online class (I recommend a class called The Science of Well-Being by Lauri Santos, and it's free!) or read a book together. Brene Brown has many good books on building resilience that can prove beneficial in situations like these.
Fourth, help them find support for themselves. A therapist might be able to help the spouse process their emotions and give them tools for living with someone with mental health struggles. I have a therapist, and it has been life-changing. My counselor helps me to unpack what is going on at home, provides validation and helps me stay sane and grounded. Tricare covers off-base counseling for the spouse. Military OneSource offers limited, but free, counseling sessions, and the Marriage and Family Life Center on base also offers therapy. It may be a place to start.
Military members do not train or fight alone. Offering support and care during times of mental health struggles provides a team to fight with and for a service member and their family. Being a military spouse is a hard job. Being a military spouse to someone struggling with depression and suicidal ideation can feel nearly impossible. It is important to have others to lean on, and being that someone is an incredible gift!
Aleha Landry lives in Colorado with her husband and four children, and has spent the last decade as a stay-at-home mom and is now a freelance writer. She has a passion for politics and policy, hates to cook (but cooks much due to aforementioned children) and loves to travel. She holds a bachelor’s of business administration from Colorado Christian University.
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