May is Mental Health Awareness Month. MilSpouseFest had a candid conversation with Lisa Howard, military spouse, mom, and mental health professional, about the journey of getting care for yourself or your children suffering from mental health issues. Howard is a Master of Social Work and the Associate Vice President, Govt. Affairs & Community Engagement at The Barry Robinson Center. She answered the Top 7 Questions about Mental Health from Military Spouses.
Let’s start with a look at the latest data from the CDC released in March of 2022, revealing that the overall mental health of high school-aged children declined during the pandemic.
- 44.2% of high schools students reported sadness and hopelessness
- 37% of high school students said they had experienced poor mental health
- 9.9% of high school students reported having seriously considered attempting suicide
- 9% of high school students reported attempting suicide
MSF: How common are mental health issues in military dependents?
LH: Mental health issues occur across the board in the DOD. So much so that the DOD creates government programs specifically for mental health and suicide awareness. The one thing we all know at this point is that everybody is touched by it.
MSF: Is it difficult to get professional care for mental health?
LH: Yes, especially in the current climate. Society has discovered that COVID revealed a lot of mental health issues. We are dealing with provider and care shortages because more people are aware of their mental health needs.
MSF: When is the right time to seek professional help for mental health challenges?
LH: If you think you need a professional, it’s probably worth visiting a professional. Parents and teens need to take the time to talk about depression or anxiety. Have the conversation- is this situation or is this chronic? If it is chronic, that is when you try to find a professional to help you. Some of the things that are situational are heartache, like the end of a first relationship, not making a sports team, or not getting a passing grade. If you are not sure if it’s a situation or chronic it is also a good reason for professional intervention. It’s also important to see a primary care provider. If you or your child are exhibiting new symptoms physically it’s important for medical review with your primary care provider.
MSF: Does my spouse need to tell their command about a mental health issue in our immediate family?
LH: It is common that people are afraid to share a family mental health issue with your command team. You are afraid that will affect your service member’s career negatively.
When our son experienced a mental health crisis, my husband informed his supervisor our son needed to go to residential care. His supervisor said you need to go across the hall and talk to a colleague; they can be of help. It turns out my husband’s colleague had an adult son with significant mental health challenges. We developed a relationship with this family, and they became mentors to us in some aspects.
MSF: Will having a child or spouse with a mental health issue hurt a service member’s career?
LH: Not getting the necessary care (for a loved one) can affect a person’s military career. If you aren’t getting care, people are limited to what they can do to help and support you and your family. Asking for assistance will only bring more resources to the surface.
MSF: Should my spouse get out of the military because of a mental health challenge in our family?
LH: This is a personal decision. You aren’t guaranteed health care in civilian positions. This decision is always a challenge for everyone. Maybe ask yourself the question: can I manage my life in the military and the care of my loved one with mental health issues.
What other advice do you have for military spouses regarding mental health?
I would encourage person-to-person relations. Social media is a helpful collection of information. You can get answers quickly in a new location, but face to face human relations will always be needed. You and your children need to make relationships and get a human connection. Go to an organized coffee, and you will develop friendships as time goes on.
Howard is dedicated to The Barry Robinson Center and its mission to support military kids who need long-term residential care for mental health challenges. BRC provides a holistic environment that sets youth and their families on the path to healing. The staff comprises qualified and compassionate therapists, teachers, counselors, doctors, nurses, and dietitians. The Center is located on a 32-acre open campus on the border of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia, and combines modern residential facilities with several original colonial-style buildings dating to 1933. For more information about the Barry Robinson Center, please visit https://www.barryrobinson.org or call 1.800.221.1995.
Join MilSpouseFest for our upcoming MSF cast on Mental Health Awareness on May 19th at noon EST. We will have a panel of experts, including Lisa Howard, MSW, discussing resources for children, spouses, and service members. Register here.