Marriage, Mental Illness, and Reintegration

The Department of Defense recently released the results of a study that concluded that soldiers are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms at increasing rates and that suicide rates are also on the rise.  While the study stopped short at concluding that these two issues are related, it is easy to see the correlation.  Recognizing a growing problem, the military has taken steps to better its treatment of mental health among its work force by partnering with the National Institute of Mental Health as well as creating an option for soldiers to self-assess mental health concerns several times a year.  It is far from a perfect solution, but it is a start.

Mental illness is a serious problem for returning soldiers that is complicated by a multitude of family, occupational, and personal factors.  The desire to reintegrate into civilian and family life as quickly as possible takes precedent over soldiers’ mental struggles.  The military has been slow to create resources to help, and the afflicted soldiers themselves are often reluctant to come forward.

It is equally as difficult for military spouses to deal with and appropriately help their ailing soldiers.  Although they are physically present, mentally ill soldiers are not the functioning person they appear to be.  It places a unique strain on military marriages that is rarely addressed.  OPSEC (operations security) prevents many details from the deployment from being discussed, which is highly detrimental to someone needing help.  It also creates a barrier between spouses that makes supporting a mentally ill spouse difficult.

Military spouses prepare themselves for the possibility that their soldier comes home physically injured, and medical resources are pointed out, but the silent struggle of PTSD and mental illness is not as readily supported.  A better job needs to be done to educate those left at home about the warning signs, techniques, and trained professionals that can help.  Awareness needs to be raised that marriages can suffer from the effects of war even after soldiers return home.  Joint counseling is one option to increase communication and understanding among couples while they readjust to the demand of life together again.

Life is complicated even further for DH and I because I suffer from mental illness too.  It’s hard for me to be understanding sometimes when I’m battling my own demons.  I have trouble finding a place of my own to voice my feelings, so putting them to the side really hurts.  I worry about DH coming home and having two people who feel isolated and alone in the same house.  Who will make the effort to come to the middle and communicate when both of us are withdrawing into ourselves?

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