I’ve been a military spouse for almost 10 years now, and there are many things I like about this life. We get the opportunity to move all over the world, meet cool people and experience other cultures. That said, it can also be very stressful. My husband leaves for long periods of time on deployments, and this impacts his mental health.
If you’re a military spouse, friend, or family member it’s important to know how to support a service member when it comes to their mental health. I’ve listed a few ways you can help. These are all things I’ve learned over the years.
1. Work to end the stigma.
Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health in the military community. One of the best ways to combat this is to openly talk about mental health at home and with others. Being open and honest about mental health helps to end the shame surrounding the topic.
2. Learn about their diagnosis.
If your service member happens to receive a mental health diagnosis, make sure and learn all you can about it from a reputable source. Learning about their condition will help you better understand what they are experiencing.
3. Be patient.
Struggling with a mental health condition can be frustrating for both of you. It’s important not to rush into “fix it” mode. Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen.
4. Talk to peers.
Being a service member is a unique experience and not something civilians will always understand. It can be very helpful to talk to someone else who has struggled with something similar. This helps with feeling isolated and ashamed. You can do this easily by downloading the WhiteFlag App and stating that you’re in the military. The app will suggest users with a similar experience.
5. Explore different resources.
There are a lot of different resources available to service members such as counseling, support groups and more. The best way to find these resources is by contacting Military OneSource. They are a one stop shop for all things military.
6. Come up with a self-care plan.
One of the best things my husband and I have done is to identify healthy things for him to do when he’s feeling stressed. We discuss this before he’s feeling stressed, so he has a toolbox of things to reach for when he’s feeling down.
7. Ask what would help them.
Sometimes it’s as simple as asking the service member what you can do to help. Often, they already know what they need but may just need some assistance.
8. Be compassionate and affirming.
When listening to someone who is struggling it is imperative to be supportive. It can be helpful to say something like, “I hear that you’re having a hard time, and I’m here for you.”
9. Avoid blaming or criticizing.
10. Let them lead the conversation.
Don’t put pressure on them to talk more than they want to. Be supportive and create a safe space for them to talk.
11. Offer to help with chores.
I know that when my husband comes home from being away at sea for a month, he’s often stressed. He needs downtime to decompress, and the last thing he wants to do is chores around the house. Simply offering to do the laundry or cook a meal can go a long way.
All service members are different and will have different needs. But, it’s important to remember to always be kind to them, while also keeping your own needs in mind. Military life can be hard, but I can say it’s so much easier for my spouse and I to handle it because of the support we receive from our community.
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