Family members of all military services listened to suicide survivors and support agencies on Fort Belvoir and the surrounding community discuss available support and stress management strategies during the 1st Information Operations Command's suicide awareness symposium at the USO Warrior and Family Center, Saturday.
The objective of the symposium was to make military spouses who may be stressed or having suicidal thoughts aware of the support options that are available to them.
"I want to get the word out to spouses that there is something besides just behavior health," said Karen Francis, 1st IO, Family Readiness Group, leader. "There are spouses who do not feel safe going to someone in uniform because they are afraid they are going to mess things up for their spouse."
Support agencies like "Give an Hour," "Not Alone," the Fort Belvoir American Red Cross and Army Community Service Mobilization/Deployment and Readiness Program were at the symposium sharing the services they offer to spouses and Soldiers.
Reintegration from a deployment and permanent change of station moves are issues that Francis said are causing spouses to become stressed and, in some cases, suicidal. Spouses build a wall during the Soldier's deployment, according to Francis. Bringing it down when the Soldier returns, she said, can be hard.
"Reintegration can be harder than the deployment because the spouse thinks, 'When my husband gets home everything will be wonderful,'" said Francis. "It's not, because while the husband has been downrange, the spouse and the children have been figuring out how to survive without dad. When he gets back, he thinks he's going to slide back in and he's not because they've made their own unit."
PCS moves are tough because the Family is moving to a place they're not familiar with and leaving people with whom they have built relationships. Soldiers have it easier when they arrive at their new assignment because they are still putting on the same uniform and going to work with Soldiers wearing the same uniform.
A Soldier's spouse and children don't have that same transition.
"The spouse has to move everything into the house, unpack, try to figure out how to pick up extracurricular activities their children were doing at the installation they just left," said Francis. "She has to put the entire Family back together. So, I think our spouses are dealing with all of these stresses, plus the children are unhappy that they have to move and leave their friends."
Spouses don't utilize on-post care options because they are afraid it will negatively affect their wife's or husband's career, according to Francis.
Off-post options like "Give an Hour" allow spouses to receive care anonymously.
"We have 7,000 providers in all 50 states and the treatment is completely confidential," said Kent Corso, "Give an Hour" Clinical Director. "A spouse can go to our website, type in a zip code, search for a volunteer in that zip code, send an email and start treatment. There's no paper work, or communication loop back to the unit commander."
Providers within "Give an Hour" are psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and licensed professional counselors who will treat military Families for free for one hour a week for one year. After the one year, if the provider feels the patient still needs treatment, the provider will continue to treat the spouse free of charge.
"Give an Hour" makes sure each provider meets the standards of licensure, credentialing and are appropriate to administer treatment.
Some of the providers have a military background, like Corso who is a former Air Force psychologist.
"Some of the training we design is based around working with the military culture, and understanding the cultural frame of reference in the military, so we can best implement treatment," said Corso.
The Belvoir branch of the American Red Cross offers deployment and reconnection classes for spouses, according to Barbara Barger, Red Cross mental health volunteer.
"We talk about different forms of communication like body language, tone of voice and words used," said Barger. "We talk about signs and symptoms of depression, plus stress relieving activities."
Its important spouses handle their frustration early so it does not manifest itself into suicidal thoughts, said Francis.
"The spouse may not be suicidal," said Francis. "They may just need someone to talk to, and need to know where to look for help."