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Study: Spouses also reluctant to seek mental health help

WASHINGTON — After her husband deployed to Iraq three years ago, Monique Rizer started suffering from migraines, sleeping problems and unexplained numbness in her face.

Mental health counselors told her it was related to stress and depression, and recommended more exercise and socialization. The mother of two said it helped almost immediately.

“As I talked to other spouses about it, I was really surprised to find out they were going through the same thing, even experiencing some of the same symptoms,” she said. “But nobody was admitting it was more than we could handle.”

Her experience is not unusual, according to new statistics from the American Psychiatric Association. In a study released Wednesday, officials found that the stigma of seeking mental health assistance is nearly as strong among military spouses as it is in the ranks.

More than half of those surveyed said they rarely speak about stress or depression with family and friends, and 53 percent worried that scheduling time with a mental health counselor could have a negative impact on their spouse’s career.

Another 12 percent believed that their servicemember spouse would resent them if they sought such help.

“Adding to that concern is that both military members and spouses reported low levels of knowledge when it comes to common warning signs and treatment options for mental health issues,” said Dr. Carolyn Robinowitz, president of the association. “Clearly we need to do a better job to get information to these individuals.”

Association officials used the study, which surveyed about 200 servicemembers and their spouses, to push for more mental health advocacy funding and additional counselors for troops and families.

Col. Elspeth Ritchie, an Army psychiatric consultant, said service officials have been working to eliminate the stigma of seeking professional help for depression and stress disorders, requiring all soldiers to undergo basic information courses on identifying mental health concerns.

But so far, officials have only seen a slight change in attitudes among soldiers, she said.

Rizer, who now works with the National Military Family Association, said future efforts need to include spouses.

“We need to make sure that spouses and family members know they’re not alone,” she said. “I think we need to realize that we’re not perfect, and it doesn’t make us weak when we reach out for help.”


Results from the American Psychiatric Association survey of military families following a combat deployment:

  • * 33% of troops typically feel stressed.
  • 31% of spouses reported the same.
  • * 92% of troops believe that treatment can help those with mental health issues.
  • 91% of spouses reported the same.
  • * 49% of troops do not know the warning signs of stress or depression problems.
  • 53% of spouses reported the same.
  • * 26% of troops know nothing at all about mental health disorders
  • 18% of spouses reported the same.
  • * 63% of troops have avoided discussing mental health concerns with others.
  • 37% of spouses reported the same.
  • * 61% of troops believe mental health treatment would hurt their career.
  • 53% of spouses believe such treatment would hurt their spouse’s career.

For more information on the survey, or for mental health resources, visit www.healthyminds.org.

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