This military lifestyle is costly and those that choose to stand beside a service member sacrifice much. Military spouses bravely step into a life where they willingly give up a close proximity to family (and all things familiar), career opportunities, and,most importantly, control.
We have no control over where we live, who we will live by, or where the armed forces will send us next. Daily living often carries hovering clouds of uncertainty. Sometimes, the fate of PCS Season is kind and we end up with an amazing community, a great church, and a place we feel like we could call “home.”
Don’t get me wrong. Military life is not always a total downer, nor do we mope or sulk our way through packing up and carrying on all the time. But, this life does present hardships that deserve an open and honest conversation. There is a silent killer that is ravaging our community: military spouse suicide.
A few days ago, our community received a devastating blow. The death of a Colorado Springs army wife shook us to our very core. How did she die? Tristen Watson took her own life -but not before taking the life of her 17-month-old son in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Was she lonely? Did she have anyone that could help her? We can’t even begin to imagine the depths of sorrow that this 24 year old mother was facing.
Since 2017, even the Department of Defense has noticed an incline in military spouse suicides. In the 2017 Annual Suicide Report, it was found that 183 military dependents- spouses and children- died by suicide. Out of this staggeringly high amount of civilian deaths, 123 were military spouses.
So, let’s talk. What are some of the causes of this wildly tragic epidemic?
Military spouses are facing unprecedented loneliness. Even though the wild fire of social media is blazing new trails in connectivity, we are more personally disconnected than ever before. It may be totally standard for today’s military spouse to have over 500 friends online, but these same spouses,most likely, have less than five people that are personally and regularly involved in their daily life. They are starved for personal connection and encouragement.
Anxiety and depression are compounding the problem. In addition to the loneliness that sweeps through our community, mental health doesn’t seem to be a priority. While programs exist, like Military Family Life Counselors or Behavioral Health, access to these resources for spouses can be sparse. Child care is often a challenge. Fear or stigmas for reaching out can also be a hindrance. Quality and accessible counseling services need to be available.
Domestic abuse and silent suffering are ever present. This is where things get difficult. We like to think that our military is full of noble and honorable people that believe in high ideology. For the most part, this is true. However, the same darkness that lives in our civilian counterparts lives here too. Spouses are subject to emotional and physical abuse. They are financially handicapped and, subsequently, are trapped. They have absolutely no recourse for financial independence or healing.
Finally, kindness matters. For years, the military spouse community has been hailed as the most tight-knit community on the face of the planet- a sisterhood. In recent years, I would attest that this community has allowed some of the most superficial and hateful behaviors to thrive. Spouses who reach out for help are shredded in public. Keyboard warriors are quick to destroy a perfect stranger. Even in person, gossip and hate speech have torn through spouses like shrapnel.
In Tristen’s case, it was reported that she reached out on the local spouses page and was met with harsh words and apathy. The comments have since been removed, but it stands to show how unfeeling this community can be when we are not intentional about fostering empathy.
We all know what it is like to be the “new kid.” We understand how hard it is to leave all that is familiar. We can empathize with each other. We have the power to say “me too” and, through this connection, we can create relationships.
While there is not one quick “fix-all,” we all can do better. None of us can be certain of why this woman found herself in a deep pit of pain, but when we think of her, I hope we see each other in a new light. Let’s come together and decide to be loving. Let’s remember that our words carry weight. Most of all, let’s choose to empathize, to enter into a person’s pain and say “You aren’t here alone.”
Megan Brown is a seasoned military spouse and military missionary. She is the Military Liaison for the Speak Up Conference Global Missions Military Scholarship, the Founder and Managing Editor for MilSpo Co., and the 2019-Armed Forces Insurance Robins AFB Military Spouse of the Year. She is passionate about military mission work, teaching and preaching about Jesus in and out of the local church. She lives in middle Georgia with her husband, Keith, and their energetic kiddos. She is a Bible teacher, speaker, and freelance writer. To learn more or connect with Megan, visit www.milspoco.com.