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.
Don’t forget the Spouses when it comes to Military SuicidesDeborah 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.
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.
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).