Military Spouse and Family Suicide Attempts need Attention

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The wife of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a message 13 January for those trying to prevent military suicides: Don’t forget the spouses.

In addition, a study recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine claims a clear link between the incidents of Army wives attempting suicide and the deployment tempo of their husbands.

Deborah Mullen was shocked when Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. 

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Editorial Board Member
VT News Network &
Our Troops News Ladder

     Don’t forget the Spouses when it comes to Military Suicides120pxus_navy_080126n0696m213_mrs._deborah_mullen_ships_sponsor_for_the_precommissioning_unit_dewey_ddg_105Deborah Mullen, the wife of Chairman of the JCS, Adm. Mike Mullen, said that Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel.

“I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track,” Mrs. Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.

She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.

“There’s another side to this and that’s family members who commit suicide,” Mrs. Mullen said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our [Military] family members.”

Military-wide, she said, it’s not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.

“Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance,” she said. “As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse’s military career.”

The military has had an increase in suicide rates among all branches since the start of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Army had a record number of suicides last year. About 1,000 people are attending the four-day suicide prevention conference.
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In addition to concerns of the wife of the military’s top flag officer, the New England Journal of Medicine released a report this month on a study done on Army wives, suicide attempts, and endless deployment of their spouses. Stating that Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved the frequent and extended deployment of military personnel, many of whom are married, the medical community outside the Pentagon notes that the effect of deployment on mental health in military spouses has gone largely unstudied.

Civilian medical researchers examined electronic medical-record data for outpatient care received between 2003 and 2006 by 250,626 wives of active-duty U.S. Army soldiers. After adjustment for the sociodemographic characteristics and the mental health history of the wives, as well as the number of deployments of Army personnel, doctors from the Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD compared mental health diagnoses according to the number of months of deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Iraq-Kuwait region and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan during the same period.

Their conclusions were that the deployment of spouses and the length of deployment were associated with mental health diagnoses. When compared with wives of military personnel who were not deployed, women whose husbands were deployed for 1 to 11 months received more diagnoses of depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety, and acute stress reaction and adjustment disorders.

Deployment for more than 11 months was associated with an increase of incidents of depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety, cases of acute stress reaction and adjustment disorders among Army wives.

Their overall finding should come as not surprise to any humanitarian. Prolonged military deployment was associated with more mental health diagnoses among U.S. Army wives, and these findings may have relevance for prevention and treatment efforts.

Source Information

From the Departments of Epidemiology (A.J.M., J.S.K., S.W.M.), Psychiatry (B.N.G.), and Health Policy and Management (J.P.M.), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and RTI International, Research Triangle Park (A.J.M.) – both in North Carolina; the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal (J.S.K.); and the Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD (C.C.E.).

ational Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255).

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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.