Tag Archives: military significant others

Suicide Prevention Matters and Every Second Counts

“Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

How am I supposed to ask someone that? Can I even get the question out? Such a personal question…and what do I do if the person I ask says yes?

Several years ago, I participated in an ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) program offered by the Chaplain’s office. I was nervous and a little uncomfortable at the start of the training because of the topic, but I left hopeful and more informed. Like mental health and domestic violence, the ‘hush-hush’ stigma surrounding suicide is one that we absolutely need to change the conversation about. Yes, it’s a difficult subject to discuss. But it MATTERS. It’s a disease, and it’s treatable. And you can help.

In the first quarter of 2016, 110 service members (Active and Reserve Components) died by suicide. And I’m sure you’ve heard the horrific statistic that 20 veterans complete suicide each day. How many received treatment and were helped?

What’s worse, we don’t have any idea how many military family members died by suicide–a whole group of people unaccounted for. But Congress directed the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office in the Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA to track and provide those numbers.

We’ve been waiting for that data…for over a year. Suicide happens in moments, and in desperate times, someone considering suicide could be helped in just a few seconds. NMFA will continue to urge the Department of Defense to release this information so that we can help every military family member who needs help RIGHT when they need it. Every second counts.

So what can you do to help someone who is thinking about suicide?

Ask them directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Then:

  • Care for them – listen to them and remove anything that could be used for self-injury.
  • Don’t leave them alone. Take them to the chaplain, a behavioral health professional, or if it’s a service member, remember you can take them to someone in their chain of command

As we come to the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, it’s worth remembering that suicide prevention isn’t something that we should think about one month a year – it’s something we should always be aware of.

The Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office has launched the “Be There” campaign as a way to encourage everyone to take responsibility to help prevent suicides—it’s not just the Department of Defense’s duty, its all of ours. The campaign asks us to be there for service members, be there for families, be there for the civilians who support them.

Look for suicide intervention programs at your installation Family Services office, Suicide Prevention office or Chaplain’s office. If they’re not offered ask for them.

Asking someone if they want to end their life is a difficult question, but for many service members and family members, it is a question they should become more comfortable asking. By simply asking, it may help someone. And if nothing else, it lets someone know they’ve been heard.

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Hruska, Government Relations Director

End the Stigma—One Military Spouse’s Honest Account of How She Came Back from Attempted Suicide

“I remember waking up, gagging on the activated charcoal they used after I overdosed on the very medications that were meant to save me. My first thought was, why didn’t it work? I failed again.” Sara, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, shares the painful memory of her suicide attempt.

Sara has been a soldier’s spouse for nearly 12 years. She and her husband met in grad school. She was studying for her MBA. He was in medical school. When he joined the military, Sara wholeheartedly embraced the life.

“I was that wife. The one that helped out with his unit, led the FRG and mentored newer spouses. I was the go-getter; the career, the family and the military protocols, ceremonies and traditions were all a part of that equation. I loved all of it.”


But 4 deployments and just as many PCS moves—all while parenting three young girls—started to take its toll on her mental health. On the outside, Sara seemed happy. She continued to volunteer and help others. No one noticed she was suffering.

“I didn’t want to get up in the morning. When he was deployed or away for training, I felt overwhelmed and lonely. I isolated myself.” Sara found it hard to cope with day to day activities. “I started thinking about how I was nothing but a burden to my girls and to my husband. To the whole world, actually.”

Sara lost weight; she was sleeping less; she would cry easily and jokingly tell friends the world would be better off without her. Yet no one picked up on the pain she was experiencing and the dreadful thoughts that kept her up at night.

“I felt like there was a black cloud following me around. I was convinced that the only way for everyone else to be happy was to end my life.”

It all came to a head one October night in 2014. Sara sent her girls on a sleepover and picked a time she knew her husband wouldn’t be home yet. She counted out the antidepressants she secretly had her doctor prescribe but never actually used, took a swig of her favorite alcoholic drink and waited.

“I thought if I was gone, that my daughters and my husband would be better off.”

Sara didn’t realize that her father was going to drop by with some tools for her husband. He was the one that found her. “To this day, he is haunted by what he saw. My dad had to call 9-1-1 and perform CPR. He was shattered.”

Sara now realizes the devastating effect this has had on her family, friends and loved ones. “I realize now that by not seeking help, I was putting not only myself at risk, but it was greatly affecting my family and friends and their well-being.”

She’s now in treatment for depression, including medications that are monitored closely by her physician (and her husband), in a support group and in individual therapy. She talks openly about her experience in the hopes that it will help someone else.

“I know I’m at risk, but now I also know how to ask for and get help. Life is still hard, but now I have the tools to help me through the struggles.”

Could your loved one be at risk? Read more on the warning signs and keep the Military Crisis number handy: Call 800-273-8255; then press 1.

ingridPosted by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD, Project Manager, Military Spouse Mental Health Profession Pipeline

3 Easy Tips to Keep Your Military Marriage Shatterproof

Dating, loving, and eventually marrying a service member can bring a flurry of butterflies. The uniform, the exotic PCS locations (29 Palms, am I right?!), and the pride that goes with standing next to your military loved one is incomparable.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and military spouse, myself, I often have other military couples who want guidance with how to make their relationships shatterproof. Here’s 3 tips I like to share:


Keep civilian friends. Being a military family can start to bleed into every crevice of your life. Initially, maybe you’re simply dating someone in the military, but then all of a sudden, you’re moving halfway across the country, leaving your job, your friends, your church, and your family.

It can be extremely important to keep an anchor in the “real world,” and have someone there to remind you how exceptional your life is. Normalcy (whatever that means) still exists, and someday you will be faced with it again. It’s hard to imagine, but for many active duty members, the choice to stay in the military has a lot to do with the fact that they haven’t written a resume in years! They wouldn’t know how to begin interviewing and applying for jobs. They can become so engrossed in war stories and surreal job descriptions that to have a ‘9:00am-5:00pm’ job can be extremely jarring. Keep civilian friends around to help you from falling too far down the rabbit hole of an all encompassing military family lifestyle.

Remember your partner is fighting for YOU. In the words of Brad Paisley, “You think you’re one in millions, but you’re one in a million to me.” I know we can get lost in thinking that with all the hours, deployments, tests, and such, we’ve become an accessory to a military career. In all my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve found it’s the complete opposite that’s true for the service member.

Often times, when a young person enters into the military, he or she tends to marry very young. Why, you might ask? They have money, a stable job, friends and camaraderie…why settle down so quickly? From my experience, it seems as though most times, these service members want to ensure that they will have someone to come home to, someone to fight for, and give a face to their mission. Therefore, dating is not enough. Some want to lock in their partners, and have a sense of security they might very well lose in every other aspect of their life.

Loyalty, compassion, forgiveness, motherhood/fatherhood, and other traits are LEARNED. I remember a time when my son was still very little and he felt sick. It was late, and I was a new mom so I was trying to decide whether it warranted an emergency room visit. I kept asking my husband what he thought and finally he said, “I don’t know! YOU’RE the mom!” I yelled back, “I wasn’t born knowing how to mom! I google things just like everybody else!”

In hindsight, this is pretty funny to me now, but at the time I was irate. As a military couple, we are given a lot of responsibility very quickly and it can feel like trial by fire, but its important to remember we were not born with innate values and the ability to love deeply, faithfully, perfectly. We must remind ourselves that even with the jobs, the marriage, the kids, we are never really grown up; we are always maturing and growing. The question is: do you want to grow together?

What tips would you give to other military couples? Leave us a comment an tell us!

Posted by Erin Calahan, M.S., LMFT, LCDC, military spouse and mother of two. Find out more about Erin.

Military Spouse Appreciation Day: Do MilSpouses Even Want to be Appreciated?

Every May, since 1999 when Congress officially made it part of Military Appreciation Month, we’ve been recognizing Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  It’s our chance to honor the commitment and sacrifice of the silent ranks.

The Department of Defense joined suit in honoring military spouses by distinguishing the Friday before Mother’s Day as the official Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Pledging to support their loved one, military spouses fearlessly stand behind the uniform. They tackle parenting alone, pursue education and careers to provide for their families, and in some cases, drop everything to care for their spouse injured in combat.


So why don’t many of the military spouses I spoke with want to be recognized? Why would they call it ‘just another day’ as important to them as “National Grilled Cheese Day?”

“I don’t need a pat on the back from those who don’t understand this lifestyle,” one military spouse said. “But it would be nice for service members to take a moment to reflect on how their spouses have helped support their careers. To take a quiet moment to say thank you.”

Are there flowers? Cards? Breakfast in bed? Shouldn’t this be the Mother’s Day before Mother’s Day?

“I don’t expect anything special, and we don’t celebrate it in my house,” another military spouse shared. “It’s nice when the base does something for us, but truly, it’s not necessary. My husband is the hero, not me.”

Besides quiet moments of appreciation from our heroes in uniform, there was one other thing military spouses agreed upon… appreciating each other is what makes Military Spouse Appreciation Day special to them. There may not be a big ceremony, flowers, or a Presidential declaration, but military spouses do like to feel the love from each other.

“I try to use Military Spouse Appreciation Day as a reminder to thank the fellow military spouses I know who have made a positive impact on my life,” one spouse shared. “It’s a good excuse to send some love!”

Another military spouse shared the same sentiment, “Life is too short to not love and appreciate those around us [by saying] thank you to all the spouses in my life that I know and love.”

At NMFA, we know military spouse serve in ways their civilian counterparts don’t understand. Through the highs and lows of military life, military spouses overcome obstacles no matter what.

So on a day that’s supposed to be all about them, it’s no surprise most military spouses are doing what they do best: supporting and encouraging each other.

THAT is worth appreciating.

How do you celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day? Or don’t you?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

What the Divorced Military Spouse Wants You to Know

The dreaded “D Word.” The one no one thinks about when they’re standing before friends and family pledging to a lifetime of love. Oddly enough, divorce in the military has been on a slow decline since 2011. But lack of commitment, miscommunication, infidelity and other stressors still manage to crack what was once the solid foundation of marriage.

The military community is tight-knit, and spouses often lean on their own for support and friendship. So what happens to that support system when a military couple gets a divorce?


Losing the military community sometimes hurts just as badly as losing the marriage.
Sarah, a former Marine Corps spouse told me, “I had a hard time accepting I’d be losing the sense of community, support, and friendship from other spouses. Knowing the comradery and pride that went along with the milspouse title would go away was devastating.”

Sarah went on to describe how her military-connected friendships changed.

“It feels a lot like moving to a new school,” she said. “Some friends immediately write you off. Others say they’ll keep in touch, but never do. It almost makes me feel like they’ve discounted our whole friendship just because my life took this turn.”

It’s not you, it’s me.
One of my military spouse friends recently got divorced. When news circulated around the command and got to me, I reached out to let her know I was thinking of her. I never heard back, and I soon realized she unfriended me and others on social media. As much as that hurt, I’m sure it was the best decision for her.

Michelle, another former military spouse I spoke to, told me she did something similar.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be friends with them anymore, or that I never liked them,” she explained. “Removing certain people from my life after my divorce (especially on social media) was the healthiest thing for me–mentally and emotionally. Seeing my milspouse friends post pictures of their happy military marriages was heartbreaking; a constant reminder of what I’d lost.”

My life is not a reality show for you to gawk at.
Most of the military spouses I asked admitted becoming a gossip topic after divorce was tough for them.

Katelyn, a former Coast Guard spouse, said she tried to ignore the gossip.

“It’s hard because I still had friends in my husband’s command, and they’d tell me ‘Oh, so-and-so was talking about you at playgroup yesterday.’ My divorce was devastating to me and my children, and hearing other wives speak negatively, and without merit, about me, hurt badly.”


Divorce isn’t pretty, and it certainly isn’t a walk in the park. Sarah, Michelle, and Katelyn all agreed on one thing: having one or two people reach out and see how they were made all the difference.

“It made me feel like it wasn’t all about my ex-husband. My life was always focused around him and his job, so knowing that I had some friends who were supportive of me made me truly thankful for the relationships I built during my time as a milspouse,” Michelle shared.

Are you a former military spouse? What would you tell your milspouse friends?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Should You Elope? And Other Thoughts About Weddings…

“The Air Force just ruined our honeymoon. He’s deploying not even two weeks after our wedding. It’ll literally be just like when we got engaged and he deployed right after.”

My friend sent me this text a few weeks ago, and my heart broke for her.

She’d gotten engaged in September, and a few days later, her fiancé left for a six month deployment. Since then, she’s been meticulously planning what’s sure to be a beautifully romantic fall wedding, already ordering Save-the-Dates, bridesmaids’ dresses, and her own perfect white gown.

“What if you considered a honeymoon before the wedding?” I asked. “I’m a little backwards, so that wouldn’t seem weird to me!”

Elope Horizontal Graphic

But my own suggestion got me thinking about the pros and cons of scrapping the wedding altogether and just eloping. Plenty of military couples have done it – maybe there’s a reason?

Let’s take a look at some comparisons between weddings and elopements:

Eloping: Snap your fingers, and it’s done!
Maybe you’re facing a deployment, like my friend. Perhaps you could really use the benefits military life offers? Either way, eloping means you’ll be betrothed in a heartbeat.

Wedding: Nobody likes a finger-snapping Bridezilla.
With all the details, loose ends to tie up, and people to wrangle, it’s stressful to plan and execute a wedding. And sometimes, that stress can turn any sweet and patient bride into a fire-breathing, finger-snapping monster if not careful. Eloping boasts an easy, stress-free day.

Eloping: It’s cheaper but…
Whether you’re running hand-in-hand to the courthouse, or the two of you are flying to the Bahamas for a destination elopement, the costs associated with eloping are usually significantly less than a traditional wedding. Maybe you have plans to use the would-be wedding money on a down payment for a house, or paying off debt, instead.

Wedding: …Don’t cheapen the occasion.
Eloping, while quick, sometimes makes you miss out on the occasion—the planning, ceremony with guests, and reception to celebrate. Will you miss having someone to walk you down the aisle if you elope? Will you still feel married without the pomp and circumstance?


Eloping: Keeps the peace.
Friends and family will weigh in like a ton of bricks on what traditions to follow, what music to use in your processional, even when and where to have YOUR wedding. It can be overwhelming, and start to feel like you’re babysitting people and their opinions. Eloping can keep tension at a minimum, and can guarantee your wedding day is just what you and your future spouse want.

Wedding: Don’t be the missing piece.
Having everyone who loves you and your partner in one place is a powerful thing. From your best friend who helped you through the rough break-ups in college, to your parents who’ve dreamed about your special day since you were little. Weddings celebrate the joining of two families, and it’s a beautiful way for all those people who love you to see your happiness culminate in one perfect day.

There are always pros and cons to everything, and the bottom line is that we won’t always please everyone. The military doesn’t plan for weddings, and it certainly doesn’t care about other big ticket events in your life, so why not do what works best for you and your future spouse?

Even if it means you have your honeymoon before your wedding. GASP!

What are your feelings about weddings verses elopements? Would you do your own vows differently?

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

You’re Engaged! Now What? 3 Tips Before You Plan Your Military Wedding

Congratulations! You’re engaged to be married! By now, you’ve called your parents and closest family to tell them the news; you’ve probably shared a photo or two on Facebook and Instagram, and you’re one step closer to #MilSpouse status.

Planning a wedding is next on the list, and many of us can tell you: it gets a little overwhelming sometimes. Should your significant other wear their uniform? Will you have a saber arch? What happens if your partner-to-be gets deployed at the last minute?

Good questions. I’m glad you asked.


Wearing military uniforms in the bridal party.
Always a classic, patriotic, and let’s be honest – sexy – choice. Seeing your love in their dress uniform always brings out the butterflies in your stomach. And you know those portraits and photos are going to be amazing, so why not wear the uniform?

TIP: Consider the time of year you want to be married, and which uniform your significant other will be wearing. Will it be dress whites? Dress blues? Mess uniform? Once you figure that out, the civilian bridal party members will be easy to coordinate. Another tip: boutonnieres and other flowers aren’t allowed to be pinned on any military uniform.

What to know about an Arch of Swords.
They make for fabulous photo ops, and are a fun and unique tradition for military weddings, the saber arch (also known as the Arch of Swords) is a way for the new couple to be ‘welcomed’ in their new life together. The bride and groom walk through the arch and just before exiting, the last two swords are lowered, the couple exchanges a kiss, and enter married upon the swords being raised.

TIP: If being married at a military church, check with the church to see if they have enough swords on hand. Rifles can be used as a substitute if there aren’t enough swords. But don’t mix. Also, ask your service member about the “wife swat” and decide if that’s something you’re okay with.

2-15 Engagement Pinterest PIN 3
What if an unexpected deployment happens?
It’s not ideal, and it’s certainly not romantic, but it could happen. What do you do if your wedding planning is going smoothly and the bomb is dropped: your service member is deploying during your wedding? The first thing to consider whether a short ceremony before deployment might be something you’re both interested in. Many military couples have been married in courthouse ceremonies, only to have all of the pomp and circumstance after the service member returns. This idea is a point of contention among military spouses, but do what feels right for you and your soon-to-be-spouse.

TIP: Wedding insurance is a thing. Check into it. Ask your vendors, venues, and other wedding-specific people what their terms and conditions are should a deployment derail your perfect day. Wedding insurance can also protect you from inclement weather, freak accidents like your wedding dress getting lost or ruined, or other unexpected events.

There are many things to think about when planning your wedding because we know you want it to be memorable and filled with love. Don’t forget the little details, and keep your focus on what makes you and your partner happy. This is an exciting time and we’re so happy for you!

Now, go ahead and take another photo of your ring…

What tips do you have for newly-engaged and soon-to-be military spouses? Share them with us!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager