Anne, an Army spouse, was looking forward to her family finally being together again this summer after two years of being separated due to her husband’s deployment orders and geo-baching. But COVID-19 has thrown them for a loop, creating sleep challenges for her, behavioral challenges for her children, and leaving her husband missing home.
Right now, in the military community, this isn’t an unfamiliar story. Sure, many are coping well during the global pandemic as we’ve had years of training that prepared us for the fear and unpredictability that many civilians are experiencing for the first time. But others are having a difficult time.
The added stress and anxiety of these unprecedented times have both exacerbated existing conditions and created new mental and behavioral health challenges, including anxiety and depression. We started asking about these problems in our community, through a “Pain Points Poll” conducted under the auspices of the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (a program of Blue Star Families and the Association of Defense Communities, presented by Booz Allen Hamilton) and found that only one-quarter of active-duty families and veterans polled this month reported the pandemic has had no effect on their mental health. The majority reported they are “considerably more stressed than [they] were before the crisis.”
In fact, since fielding began for this poll in March, nearly 7,000 military and veteran family respondents have shared their challenges. At least 1 in 5 military family respondents have reported each of the following mental health concerns since we started inquiring about them on April 8:
1. sleep difficulties when they had none before;
2. an existing anxiety or depressive disorder diagnosis, and their symptoms have worsened; and/or
3. no anxiety or depressive disorder diagnosis but are now experiencing symptoms.
These trends generally hold for veteran respondents, too.
All that to say, aren’t military families and veterans supposed to be resilient? They’re conditioned to handle the unexpected, right?
Yes. And they are. But resilience does not mean invulnerable. Military families have built their strength over time after many exposures to stress, but even then, this crisis can reach and exceed those limits.
So, why do we need America’s support? Here are a few reasons:
1. 61,000-plus DoD personnel are currently working in support of COVID-19 operations (Department of Defense COVID-19 Response, DoD) and are at increased risk of exposure;
2. deployment and reintegration schedules have been affected, with separations stretching out additional months, adding more uncertainty to an already stressful time for families; and
3. delayed PCS moves during the prime move season have caused many to suffer from out-of-pocket expenses and even loss of housing.
Now, what can be done? Well, as military and veteran community members, we need people to check-in on our well-being and provide us with a sense of connection and resources that allow us to thrive — not just survive — during these trying times. And while not every challenge that COVID-19 has presented can be solved, there are ways to find comfort amidst the chaos.
In honor of Military Appreciation Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, we — Blue Star Families and Headstrong — have joined forces to support the mental health and well-being of our military families and veterans.
Blue Star Families provides programming to help military families connect with their communities, addressing the isolation that can be brought about by frequent moves and deployments. Meanwhile, Headstrong supports post-9/11 veterans and their families coping with PTSD and the “hidden” wounds of war by providing completely cost-free, bureaucracy free, and confidential mental health care.
For those reasons, together, we’re launching the #Here4U social media campaign to serve as a reminder that it’s OK to ask ourselves, “How am I, really?” and not be afraid of the answer because there’s an entire community — both military and civilian — #Here4u.
Starbucks, our trusted partner, is raising their hand to help, too, because they believe veteran and military spouses make their company better and communities stronger. This Military Appreciation Month, Starbucks is continuing its commitment to support the mental health and well-being of the military community by partnering with Blue Star Families and Headstrong.
For those interested in showing support from the comfort of your home, purchase a Starbucks Military eGift from May 21-June 1, and Starbucks will donate $5 split evenly between Blue Star Families and Headstrong.
During this symbolic month of May, and in response to current times, it’s our mission to do everything possible to give military families and veterans the support, information, tools, and, most importantly, a place to belong as we wade through unchartered territory, together. When we as a nation serve those who serve, we can create vibrant communities of mutual support. We’re all stronger when we take care of one another.
For questions about Blue Star Families’ data, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathy Roth-Douquet is the CEO of Blue Star Families and Zach Iscol is the executive director of Headstrong.