A few days ago, Christina Booth, a military spouse at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was arrested after cutting her three children’s throats in an effort to make them quiet for her husband since he “got ‘very annoyed'” when the kids were loud. She and her husband had been drinking and reports are that she had very little help from her husband in raising her children. Her family was described as one in crisis. All three children survived and are recovering from the attack. All of the details, if you want to read them, are here.
The purpose of this post isn’t to condemn this woman. Sadly, Christina’s story isn’t a new one. Take Sheena Griffin’s story– a woman who shot her children, set her house on fire, and then committed suicide after calling her deployed ex. Or Rouhad Ahamd Ezzeddine‘s– a male spouse who apparently killed both of his daughters and then himself shortly after his wife returned from Afghanistan.
And even more tragically, the story is one we will most likely see again.
Perhaps we can’t “fix” every situation where there’s a family in crisis, but we can discuss and work towards ending some of the root causes and systemic issues in the military community that help to contribute to extreme situations.
Mental Health Care
Often, when stories like this come to light, we try to distance ourselves by saying that the person was evil, beyond help, or had something inherently wrong with them. We look for a reason why. We tell ourselves that we would never do something so heinous. We say that she should have gotten help or that someone should have seen it coming. But the truth is that many military spouses deal with mental health issues. A 2008 survey by the American Psychiatric Association “found that 40 percent believed their mental health was hurt by their husband’s or wife’s service overseas.” About 25% of respondents had regular issues with sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression.” That is tragic. That is something we should be talking about.
Let’s talk about this too: there is embarrassingly little analysis of and data on military spouse suicides and attempted suicides. That, in itself, is an egregious oversight.
And then let’s talk about the health care system itself. We know that TriCare is notoriously overtaxed. There are frustrating hurdles to overcome and miles of red tape to cut through. There are doctors who don’t remember who you are because they see thousands of patients. Depending on where you are, you might have to get health care at multiple sites or getting onto waiting lists. Or have to travel hours for specific treatments. I’ve seen it happen for friends who are not in crisis but still need health care issues dealt with. Then add a PCS to a site you’ve never been. You have to begin the process of navigating the system all over again. For people who need serious help, the system can be daunting, impossible to decode, or too slow for their needs.
This isn’t an abstract issue that could, maybe, possibly happen under the right conditions. It’s something that plays out every day. Take Judy’s story. Judy’s son, Geoffrey, has undergone treatment for suicide ideation, PTSD, depression, and addiction. As a college-aged military dependent, he was put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist because there were no doctors that took TriCare in his area. Without an appointment, he could not get a prescription that he needs to mediate the symptoms of his diagnosis. He needs this prescription. Period. Eventually, he was offered periodic 15-minute video check-ins with a doctor and separate appointments with a counselor who was not a doctor.
That’s not okay.
It goes without saying that being a military spouse– and the military lifestyle itself– can be exciting and adventurous. It can also be isolating and lonely. Moving every few years, making a new life in a new place, feeling little or no control over where you live, dealing with deployments (often as the only adult in the house)… they all add up. Many military spouses also find it difficult or nearly impossible to find jobs relating to their career aspirations, adding to a sense of loss of self and limiting the number of people that they are in contact with daily. When paired with depression, a mental illness, a sick child, a rural base, or any other confining obstacles, being able to find friendship and camaraderie can feel nearly impossible.
I think we can all agree: pregnancy and childbirth are huge, life-changing events. When coupled with the stress and rigors of military life, obstacles and problems can be exacerbated. There have been studies done showing that a spouse’s deployment is a risk factor for postpartum depression, too, by the way.
Consider that TriCare doesn’t yet cover breastfeeding supplies. Consider that the DoD’s Military Support page (which highlights efforts to support military families) contains no mentions of programs or initiatives dealing with pregnancy, new mothers, or babies… at least, nothing that I could find at the time of my visit and search. Consider that when I searched the internet (using at least fifteen different searches with different search terms) for support for military spouse new moms or postpartum depression, exactly 0 programs covered by the military or the government came to the top of the list.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist– it means that they are difficult to find for someone intentionally looking for them. The programs that do show up include lists from blogs, nonprofits, and organizations and are often on poorly designed, tough-to-navigate websites or aren’t linked. For example, I found mention of a program that offers visiting nurses for pregnant moms and newborns, but no link was provided… and neither was the program’s name. It was a virtual dead-end. Considering the sheer amount of new mothers (especially young mothers) and babies connected to the military, you’d think that this would be a primary (or at least a major) area for improvement, expansion, and growth. A healthy mom means an healthier baby and family– and that is never a bad thing. If we want healthy military families, we need to take the support and well-being of new mothers seriously.
I want to be wrong.
I want someone in the comments to point me to robust programs, support systems, and help for military families and spouses in crisis that I’ve overlooked. (Seriously!) But sadly I don’t think that will be the case. And until programs dealing with depression, stress, and mental health are easily accessible, available, and usable our military community is not as strong as it could–or should– be.