A medical expert in military clinical research has spoken of the impact mental health issues can have on Armed Forces families.
Dr Dominic Murphy, Head of Research at Combat Stress and President of the UK Psychological Trauma Society, has spoken about the Together Programme, which he ran in 2018 for Combat Stress to support the ‘caregiving partners of veterans’.
Behind the programme was research that found that the partners of veterans are more likely to suffer from mental health issues than the general population.
So the aim was to understand what kind of support partners might like – and how to pilot some kind of intervention to offer that support.
The driver for the programme was research from the US which showed compelling evidence that if you support partners, you can also help the veterans themselves.
It’s Not Just About PTSD
One of the key findings from the research, Dr Murphy stresses, was that although PTSD tends to be the focus of most conversations around military mental health, there are also lots of other types of mental illnesses.
Anxiety and depression are as prevalent in the Armed Forces community as they are in the general public – and have just as significant an impact on people’s ability to work, hold down relationships and generally enjoy life.
All of this can put a huge strain on a military family’s life.
Traditionally, the military ethos is to not dwell on problems and “just get on with it."
The research found that this ethos often cascades to the military and veteran family too.
Partners and spouses work hard to “keep going”, often as both breadwinners and the glue keeping the family together. But, in turn, this can lead to feelings of depression and isolation.
Reluctant To Seek Help
As well as being determined to keep things together, partners can often – like veterans themselves – be reluctant to seek help, despite feeling isolated or depressed.
Dr Murphy reports that there seems to be a feeling among partners that their civilian families and friends simply won’t understand their issues and there is also a feeling of a certain stigma attached to PTSD and other mental health issues that continues to prevent people seeking out support.
Strength In The Community
For military partners and spouses, there is often a sense of inevitability and being accustomed to feelings of isolation and being separated from your serving loved one.
For those who live among the armed forces community, there are strong support networks available – but these are less of an option for naval families who typically don’t live on a base or in a military community.
And, of course, for veterans’ families, these communities are often no longer accessible at all.
It’s important too to remember that it’s not just military partners and spouses who are affected.
There will also be an impact on children from being separated from friends and their wider family, Dr Murphy explains.
Where To Find Support
Dr Murphy stresses that there is a lot of support out there but he recognises that it can be very complex to navigate all the different ways in which military families can find it.
He stresses that the first port of call should always be the GP, who should then be able to signpost the options available – from the NHS to the wide range of military charities offering support.
This article features as part of Mind Kind - a week-long series of interviews, videos, case studies, and practical tips and information on mental health and forces families, across BFBS platforms.