WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 13, 2015) -- Not so many years ago, military spouses talked over coffee, at Family readiness group meetings, wives clubs and had many other face-to-face options for communicating with each other. Today, even with ever-growing technology options, new and veteran spouses alike may struggle to find the communication channel they need at a new assignment.Corie Weathers, a military family blogger, podcaster and licensed professional counselor - and also the 2015 Military Spouse of the Year for Armed Forces Insurance and Military Spouse Magazine - attended the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition this week to share what she has learned about military spouse communication and support."The military spouse community has always been known for its support and mentoring of each other. However, as times have changed, spouses choose social media as the main source of connection and information," Weathers said. "Coffees, officer spouse clubs, and face-to-face mentoring is slowly disappearing. Spouses will need a new approach that brings generations together if the community is to retain its reputation of support."IMPERFECT STORMWeathers speculates that the culture shifted at the same time that technology expanded and also at the same time Family funding for the military decreased. All these unanticipated factors came together at the same time to cause more dependence on online communication, the result of which was less face-to-face sharing and mentoring."We need to swing the pendulum back to the middle and mix in more face-to-face mentoring and communicating; you can't get everything online. We certainly do not want to discount technology and the ways our younger spouses choose to communicate. Social media has been very helpful, but in many cases spouses are not developing local connections because they expect to be able to get their support online," Weathers said.Younger generations have been raised online and continue to use social media as a means of getting information. Sixty-three percent of active-duty spouses report using Facebook to search for information rather than official Department of Defense resources, according to the 2014 comprehensive report based on the Military Family Lifestyle Survey.ONLINE GENERATIONSThere are notable benefits to online communication from a military spouse and Family perspective. Aside from being a good way to learn about upcoming local events and as a resource for asking questions and getting quick answers, social media in particular has allowed many spouses and Soldiers to maintain better long-distance relationships and Family communication during deployments as well as with neighbors and friends made at previous assignments.Weathers referred to three military spouse demographics and shared some insights about each.Senior spouses are expressing weariness from years of rapid deployments and mentoring younger generations. While this demographic has opportunities for advocacy and making a difference in younger military Families, it can come with a cost in regard to privacy, isolation and expectations. There are high levels of depression, anxiety and isolation in this group.Mid-senior spouses usually have been through one or more deployments. They may have young children in the home and are heavily involved outside the military. This demographic is also weary from service members' longer work hours and multiple deployments. Rising numbers of spouses are becoming caregivers to their service member suffering from traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues, chronic pain and chronic sleep problems.The new generation spouse may be defined partly by age and having access to social media and current communications technology for a majority of their lives. Of the three groups, they most use the social space and technology as their main form of connection. This demographic is most likely to see information, perceived support and training as easily researched online, failing to seek out knowledge and support in their local area.New generation spouses and even mid-senior spouses are likely to have children under 12 in their homes. That equates to a lot of time spent at activities such as playdates, sports, clubs, classes and other events or functions during the week.CULTURE SHIFTS BACK TO WORKWeathers points out that the Army offers many programs for spouses and Families but the advantages, in many cases, are not fully realized due to lack of participation. A culture shift may be one reason, she explained, most military spouses today either work or are looking to enter or re-enter the workforce. Among active-duty spouses, 42 percent are employed and an additional 33 percent would like to be employed outside the home, according to the Military Family Lifestyle Survey."Parents may just be too busy to have time for another meeting," Weathers said. "What we have to do is to find ways to make it easier for working parents to take advantage of the services and support the Army offers. We have a lot of spouses who are professionals. Maybe at a particular post it would be as simple as scheduling more events after 5 p.m."Weathers suggests a return to the small things. Maybe it would be helpful, she said, to have someone bring the new Family in the neighborhood a welcome packet with up-to-date information. Today many spouses look to social media to find the best dentist or the best local gym, but hand delivering that welcome packet gives senior and mid-senior spouses an opportunity to meet the new spouse, and offer an invitation to participate in local events."It's a chance to explain the local way of doing things as well," she said.If spouse support doesn't shift, the military will see a splitting off from other support channels, according to Weathers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Spouses see each other a lot during deployment, then when the Soldiers come home, maybe not for a few months. Not bad, just a shift in how things are done at different times. Newer spouses need to know that; or they could think they are being ignored or left out, Weathers said.SPOUSE MENTORINGMentoring is highly desired and many spouses are willing to be mentors. Most senior spouses, veterans of the officers and enlisted wives clubs era, want to mentor and are doing it. "Mid-senior spouses need to be aware that it is their turn to step up and begin taking the reins," Weathers said.There are many great military spouse organizations that started grassroots online - organizations that provide support, information and are using new methods to reach out. Some Family wellness seminars today are held entirely online with recordings posted for those who can't watch live and for searchers to find at their convenience.ONLINE COMMUNITIESEmail is still a big player in the delivery of information and social media is now filling in the general information space with live tweets, podcasts and interactive webinars. Facebook is quickly becoming more of a newspaper or billboard, or for the veteran generation, a Rolodex, for announcements and other tidbits of information. It is not seen as a good forum for personal discussions or to ask delicate questions, yet many in the new generation of spouses rely on it almost exclusively to stay informed.Some of the Army's youngest Families were brought up in a time where everything was online, or expected to be at their fingertips. However, many are finding that the online community may not be as informative, accepting or supportive as they had hoped, Weathers explained.Many young spouses turn to the online community for information and find that if they do not ask a question the right way or express their negative feelings about an aspect of military life, they face immediate and often harsh responses. This could lead to increasing feelings of isolation and many become afraid to ask questions or get involved. Bullying can be a factor in all online communications platforms and military sites and forums are not exempt.According to the Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 39 percent of spouses reported feeling "stressed" either most or all of the time. Top stressors include deployment and separation, financial stress and employment-related stress.GETTING THE WORD OUTAdditionally, the survey found that 51 percent struggle with isolation and lack of social support. This is notable, Weathers said, because lack of social support is a risk factor for a number of mental health issues including depression, suicide and substance abuse.There are steps to help remedy the situation."We have to see what the rest of the world is doing and be innovative to solve the problem" said Weathers, who believes that when spouses feel a part of something, they are more likely to want to be involved. "They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, they want to help other military spouses. We have to find ways to market these ideas to them in that way.""The Army absolutely cares about Families," she said, but explained that it takes all the different communication circles from the Army and DOD channels to spouses' groups both at large and at the local level to reach out and support the spouse community.Weathers offered an example of an immediate situational communication and support need that occurred recently which demonstrates the blending of old-school and new-school to deliver the best response.Earlier in October, weather patterns converged to cause downpours and flooding on Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Official and unofficial channels worked together to get the word out:- The base put out information on Facebook. That worked for connected spouses who were tied into the local Facebook page but that wasn't everyone.- The public affairs office set up an automated dial-in Commander's Action Line and publicized that through local media.- The military spouse community picked up the message and went door-to-door to ensure everyone who needed information had access to it.