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Suicide numbers – the tip of the iceberg

January 30, 2013

giant-icebergThis week, we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to the issue of suicide in military families.  An article on NBC from Bill Briggs, quoting my friend Kristy Kaufmann, and discussing the very real issues we are facing was met with a frankly perplexing SpouseBuzz piece.  That piece was brilliantly refuted by Military Families Count (a new site set up by an MSOY candidate, whose platform and expertise are in the mental health field) and since this is the focus of my schooling and I am currently coordinating a suicide awareness seminar on my post, I felt I needed to say something too.

The idea that because a military spouse or family member is an anchor ( or in my parlance the linchpin) of a family around which the rest of the family revolves and that keeps the family firmly rooted, means that spouse or family member won’t crack is, at least to me, ridiculous.  I’d laugh if it wasn’t so scary, so important.  Our family members are stretched thin after all these years of war, multiple deployments and the stress and strain.  Yeah, we keep hearing “pull up your big girl panties and quit whining” – well in many of the men and women I talk to – the elastic is around their necks!  You can only hold up/hold on for so long.

What I worry about even more is how this “anchor” perception makes a spouse who is in the situation of having a crisis, who is stressed to that breaking point, feel about their situation.  Adding another layer of responsibility, another layer of guilt at not being able to bear up, keep that lip stiff… adding that weight is unhealthy.

The idea that the approaching storm (or as Sheila Casey said “the tip of the iceberg”) is a “theory” – is frankly blindly ignoring what we have been hearing and seeing for years. No, I cannot give you numbers.  That’s because we keep being told that DoD can’t keep track of our population’s suicide attempts or deaths by suicide – and the excuses I have heard range from privacy issues to being told that DoD doesn’t control military families in the same way they do the service member.  There are many ways this could be done… but I understand that trying to get them to change this is a longterm project.    BUT – just because we don’t have numbers doesn’t mean that the stories we keep hearing aren’t true.  That kid who killed himself or that spouse who tried to commit suicide – because they aren’t  in a database doesn’t mean that he isn’t dead, or that she doesn’t need help.

As Alisha said in her piece – let’s stop being Ostriches.  Let’s start with this.  Let’s admit that there IS a problem.  Let’s admit that our families are stressed.  Let’s admit that there isn’t enough mental health support or treatment available FOR family members (and in many places, not enough for service members either).  Let’s admit that even with all the examples from senior officers and lots of pamphlets telling us that asking for help means strength – that there is still a stigma with seeking help.  Let’s admit that even when we ask for help, we can get treated badly by the unit or the command.  Let’s admit that we NEED help.

Yes, I will agree with Spouse Buzz that we are strong, that we help each other.  But that’s not enough! Talking to your friend Joyce (when she might be going through her own crisis) can either help, or can exacerbate it – misery doesn’t love company and sitting together and falling down the drain with another person – isn’t healthy for either of you! The advice to contact Military OneSource or contact Tricare again?  Really?  Those avenues are so over stretched that it is often hit or miss if you can actually speak to someone.   And just because you get an answer, doesn’t mean it is the right answer for YOU!  There are wonderful groups to help out there.  We need to make sure that when a hand goes out – there is a trained hand there to hold onto.

Here are some sites.  And if you have a place to go to, and want to share it, please do so in the comments (either here or on Facebook)  We will add them to our list, which will be a permanent part of Left Face.

Not Alone

Give an Hour

Jason Foundation

THIS is the national suicide prevention directory – organized by state.

Veterans crisis line/Red Cross/USO;  this is NOT just for servicemembers and vets, families are welcome


23 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2013 6:19 pm

    Brava, Karen! (The image of granny-panty elastic around my neck will haunt me in my dreams tonight, I just know it!) Thanks for the mention, but more importantly, thank you for your insights, your support and your willingness to take me under your wing as I dive headlong into these waters! I look forward to many more opportunities to work together on this issue.

  2. January 30, 2013 6:59 pm

    A-fucking-men! I am so sick of hearing how I am not allowed to feel weak or have problems because to do so is to be a bad wife. Fuck that shit in the ass without lube and anyone who is spreading that nonsense.
    I don’t want one more spouse, family member, care giver or friend feeling lost, broken or alone on my watch because of this crap.
    Absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence. If it did, we would still think the sun revolves around the earth. More logic, less blaming and shaming of anyone who has the temerity to raise the flag and ask for help.

    • Nycgurl permalink
      January 31, 2013 12:15 am

      Perhaps one should be a little less vile and a little more focused in replying. The language is inappropriate especially directed at anyone associated with someone else’s job which supports you. If you held an actual job (sorry privately and government funded handouts don’t count) would you like your spouse spewing forth like this? I think not. And yes, I can expect another condescending round of, ” I’m right because I’m an unpaid scientist who bullies everyone around me” rhetoric.

      • January 31, 2013 12:57 am

        Nycgurl, I appreciate Ophiolite’s fervor and passion! It gets me fired up and gives me hope! (I don’t believe her use of colorful language is directed toward anyone, it’s exclamatory.) If I could shout in the comments section of a blog post I would shout “I’M A REAL PERSON WITH REAL LIFE PROBLEMS AND I AM NOT A MACHINE!”

        I don’t know about you but the pressure to be a perfect military spouse can be extremely overwhelming. My husband is Active Duty and has been blown up several times and suffers from short-term memory problems, and other physical issues. His MOS requires him to be gone more than he is around. I have to remind him of everything he has to do outside of work, like paying a bill, returning a call, laundry, etc… I am often left alone in a strange town with little connections. The FRG for his unit is NOT welcoming, especially because we do not have children. My father, a veteran from the late ’60s and early ’70s has metastatic carcinoma. He waited 5 and a half months after he was diagnosed with cancer for the VA to treat him, and now probably only has weeks to live. My mother is physically disabled and lives 1000 miles away. I am my family’s “anchor,” but who is mine? Who reminds me of the things I need to get done? Who helps me when my computer crashes or when my car is dead and I need a ride to an appointment with my doctor or when I am balling over the sadness I feel for my dad’s looming death or the failure I feel when I can’t physically be there for my mother or when I am having an anxiety attack? The answer, no one. I am stressed the hell out. Would some say that I am not cut out for this? Perhaps, and more days than not, I would say I’m not, either. But I want to feel supported by my community and sometimes that means more than just a pat on the back and being told to drink water and take a knee.

        If we don’t acknowledge there is a problem we can’t fix it. One spouse committing suicide or one spouse that needs help and can’t get it or doesn’t know where to turn is one too many.

        • NYCgurl permalink
          January 31, 2013 1:34 am

          Allie, you would have to read this person’s replies to others’ comments to understand my prior post. The replies are primarily all misconstrued, and inevitably revert to being about her. I left a small portion of my story on another blog, but after my husband’s recent deployment to the worst combat zone, I now know what where I stand in many of my relationships including my marriage. And it was a real eye opener. Had similar crises, no support, friends being disrepectful or dismissive, family not interested. Forget about the military including the FRGs — mine is about 50 miles away and have yet to even hear from them (fully understand the no child issue). As far as mental health assistance, it’s just false advertising to divert taxpayer funding to these institutions that “provide” counseling. Best I think we can hope for is to keep searching for ways to improve our self-esteem by finding a few things we enjoy and are good at. Also, be as self-supportive as possible, because most folks just simply are uncomfortable with the issue and/or don’t care. Learn to drive, buy a cheap car, take a cheap community college class if you have some energy. Can’t be supported by this “community” — it’s an illusion; it’s merely another employer (and not even ours). I’m sorry to hear about your dad, my parents both passed when I was a teenager and it took me a very long to come to terms with the fact even though I was their caregiver, there was nothing more I could do. Might think about leaving your husband to fend for himself awhile and visiting your mom. Time never stands still, so you never know. Chances are he’ll be more than fine– 1,000 miles is not that far away you wouldn’t be gone forever. BTW, no one ‘s cut out for being abandoned and disrespected by some else’s choice of employment. It’s a hard battle to remind ourselves that we had meaning and importance before this relationship and this choice of employment

        • libarmywife permalink*
          January 31, 2013 7:07 am

          Go ahead and shout! that’s why we are here. I so sorry that you aren’t feeling supported by your community – and it makes me very angry that you are going through all this feeling alone. When you are ready (and if that is now, even better) please consider NotAlone or Give an Hour – they are both great groups that do care, and are reaching out. NotAlone has call in, private, safe calls (Trench Talk is Thursday evenings). You never know who you might find to talk to. Her War Her Voice has a great site, and personal connection too.

      • libarmywife permalink*
        January 31, 2013 7:11 am

        I realize you must know ophiolite and you have an issue – but we would all appreciate you NOT bringing personal attitudes and information into the conversation. I will be removing any identifying information that you inserted into this conversation. Do NOT do that again. Because we want to make sure we allow as many voices into the conversation as have something to say, we won’t be pulling your comments or asking you not to post, simply tell you not to make this site a place for your personal vendetta against anyone in our community.

        • January 31, 2013 11:09 am

          Nycgurl, I’m sorry to hear about your situation. But what they are saying on the leftface blog is that it shouldn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t just be smoke and mirrors.

          I think Ophiolite’s comments were more on par with a “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” sentiment. I think that was the point of the blog post. This is a place I come (and I’m certain others do too) to hear stories from other people like me, of their struggles and how they cope. And for the general sense of camaraderie. People feel empowered when they have a voice, I don’t fault anyone for writing their own stories.

          I think buying the car, taking a class, or going on a trip are the same old perscriptions. It isn’t always about a lack of self-esteem, sometimes it’s just being burned out, physically and/or emotionally, for whatever reason(s). “We” are trying to figure out a way to change how this is dealt with or not, in this case. If not for ourselves than for the future military spouses and families. My husband has been in the military for 13 years and will retire some day and I’d like it to be better for the people that will come after us, if we can’t change it now. Sometimes, you have to use words like fuck, shit, or damn to get “their” attention.

          Libarmywife, I am on of the lucky ones. I used Military OneSource as a counseling resource and was able to get connected with a wonder counselor. I am coping, but there are some things (like my dad’s situation) that can’t be talked out, that I just have to go through.

        • NYCgurl permalink
          January 31, 2013 6:21 pm

          This comment was deleted due to the personal attacks levied against another person. WE DO NOT ALLOW personal attacks. be mad at something we say – fine. be pissed at how we say it, fine. but DO NOT ATTACK ANOTHER PERSON ON THIS BLOG. We are not banning this person, however, we will continue to delete inappropriate comments.

      • January 31, 2013 7:24 pm

        Just to clarify, I was agreeing with LAW, as I often do. Beyond that, I have no response other than to agree with Allie below that you can, with Tricare Prime, get 8 visits to a therapist (in network) without a referral. Beyond that, the therapist can contact your PCM and Tricare for you in order to get additional treatment for you if required. A list of in plan therapists in your area is available on the Tricare website for your region.

  3. January 30, 2013 7:47 pm

    I want to say more on this subject later but for now I would like to mention that if you have Tricare Prime I don’t think you need a referral for counseling services. So, if you call around to counseling places in your area just ask if they take Tricare before you set up an appointment.

  4. Tricia Radenz permalink
    January 30, 2013 10:23 pm

    Awesome, Karen! Don’t think many realize the true magnitude of the problem.

    ~ From the mother of the 12 year old who killed himself

    • Nycgurl permalink
      January 31, 2013 6:53 pm

      I’m so sorry for your little ones loss.

    • Nycgurl permalink
      January 31, 2013 7:01 pm

      There’s almost no words. Just saw a picture — thank you for sharing your son with us,

  5. connie permalink
    January 31, 2013 5:08 am

    Recently, and only recently, on AFN, there have been ads about ‘taking care of the care-givers’. It’s rather vague and insubstantial, but it’s a start.

  6. Nycgurl permalink
    January 31, 2013 7:44 pm

    The comment was deleted – due to personal attacks and threats.

  7. February 21, 2013 7:37 am

    I am going to state something politically incorrect, but I think it’s very important to understanding the difference between my viewpoint and that of Jacey’s at SpouseBuzz. After her, what I found enraging post, I wrote a counter OpEd which she to her credit posted on SpouseBuzz two days after her own. Notably, she watered it down, taking out the statistics offered, and didn’t credit me my Masters in Organizational Leadership in my bio…though she every other post mentions she is working on her Masters…both I think as a means to give me less creedence…At any rate…here is the politically incorrect part…but I have been thinking of nothing else for the three weeks since…Jacey is a Navy Spouse of a senior ranking officer. How could she possibly understand what has been asked of Army, Marine or National Guard families in these two never ending wars? She can’t. What is really bothering me, is the loudest voice on the web, SpouseBuzz, is primarily run by Navy/Air Force wives. Theirs is a no less great sacrifice…but it is very, very different in it’s nature. Actual combat deployments and insane OpTempo to sustain them are terrorizing Army enlisted families. My own husband has done 5. I have attended a sea of funerals. I have caregiver/ volunteer burn out, as does every senior spouse I know.

    • libarmywife permalink*
      February 21, 2013 8:02 am

      I have to put in a caveat here, Sabrina – we have 2 Navy Spouses who are two of our most prolific writers! I think one fact we need to remember, they have been doing “deployments” for their entire careers – away at sea for months. As an Army Wife/National Guard Spouse, I didn’t experience this type of separation much, a TDY here and there, until the deployments to Iraq started. and the combat deployments of Navy IAs in support of either Army or Marines, cannot be seen as any different from an Army or Marine deployment. My husband has done 4 deployments, one was 22 months with the MN Guard – but I know how my friend feels when her husband’s ship goes to sea, when she is left with her two kids and has to manage it all – just the way my Army friends do. We have often said here “gone is gone”. underways aren’t safe cruises, one friend has a spouse who is carrier based – I cannot imagine living like that! anymore than I can imagine how my husband lived during part of his last Afghanistan deployment.

      The sea of funerals – and the burnout – I hear ya! It’s either turning us numb, or so sensitive we can’t stand it and withdraw.
      Congratulations on your Masters, I’m hoping to be in an MSW program soon (waiting to hear is making me nuts)
      Thanks for commenting, if you ever want to write a guest post for us, please let me know. We’d love it! ~LAW

    • snarkynavywife permalink*
      February 21, 2013 8:46 am

      Yes. What Karen said. My husband, who was trained to drive ships and build networks, ended up in Afghanistan–a land-locked country–commanding convoys. He did this just one month after returning from 10 months of deployment aboard a ship in the prior year. I’ll just put this out there: I think we do understand what’s been asked of the Army/NG/Marines because our sailors are being used as soldiers. Same with the AF. Prior to that, my husband was on ships where his legs were nearly crushed while climbing from a boat onto the ship, where he hung by a single finger from a ladder when they were being hit by 40-ft waves, where a drug plane during counter-drug operations locked on them, where a foreign navy accidentally fired on their ship, where Iran’s grandstanding and threats meant the danger of mines and battles on the open ocean, where there are deaths on EVERY deployment, where North Korea’s and China’s grandstanding and threats have made for some pretty intense interactions. Google the USS Cole, by the way, and see why for 18 years, my family has pushed fear of terrorists to the backs of our minds every time the ships leave port for 6-10 uninterrupted months of 24/7 operations punctuated by a couple days here and there of port calls (and zero trips home for R&R). Check out the demands that sequestration has already put on the Navy (indefinite deployments–INDEFINITE), where OPTEMPO is a new deployment cycle every 18-24 months, with workups that take the ships away for much of that between time, and surge deployments that result in a 7 month deployment, back home for four months (if that, and with workups while “home”) and gone again for another 6. Hell, my husband’s first ship had 300 days underway–NOT EVEN DEPLOYED, just underway–in the first 365 days he was aboard. And then they did a counter-drug ops deployment and came back to the same kind of underway schedule.

      I dare say our experience is different in setting, but we’re very well aware what you’re going through. Our deployments might not go as long, but the Navy and AF have been conscripted into the Army ON TOP OF their already ridiculous OPTEMPO. Deployments are dangerous, they’re frequent, and they put the same kind of strain on our troops that soldiers have been dealing with (albeit in concentrated amounts) in the last decade.

      Has the Army/NG experience been brutal the last ten years? Absofuckinglutely. I will not argue that. But don’t assume we haven’t sacrificed and feared and hurt and cried as much as you have. The biggest difference is our Navy and Marines* have been deploying for decades, and most of those deployments have been relatively unmarred by violence and loss. But we know what soldiers have been enduring. We. Know. Intimately.

      All that said, I’m not a big Jacey fan, and I’m sorry she edited your opposition op-ed. That’s really not cool and not all that surprising, either.

      *and select units of the AF and Army

  8. February 21, 2013 3:27 pm

    I supposed my comment would be met with such attitude. Suffice it to say…I was aiming my rage at Jacey…and surmising this was how she could come to such a conclusion…I am well aware that every branch is quirky, I was just trying to voice from the other trenches. I’d like to add, not as a one up at all…but you mention a deployment every 18-24 months….in the Army, just so we are comparing oranges to apples here….it’s not unusual to be home less than a year before deploying again to combat…so a four year window looks like this…deploy 12 months of combat, home 6 months PCS to new duty station, deploy another 12 months of combat, home 4 months, to school 5 months, deploy 15 months of combat. People misunderstand Army dwell time which has nothing to do with individuals, and everything to do with Brigades. When tell you my husband has been home less than 20 percent of the past 12 years…I am not exaggerating and I am not some anomaly either, it’s pretty much par for the course in the senior enlisted Army. So, you just deploy to combat, come home they PCS you to the next Brigade deploying…

    • libarmywife permalink*
      February 21, 2013 3:34 pm

      let’s stop this – and suffice it to say that the last 11 years have been a giant shit mountain, ok? the real issue is not whose deployment is worse, or who has it more difficult. It’s that NO ONE is getting the support they need to get through it!

      • February 21, 2013 3:46 pm

        Which is absolutely NOT what I was trying to say, but I do understand how it is received that way. In fact, if all of what I had originally posted had been posted…I had captcha vs. iPad issues…you’d see, I think every deployment sucks, all branches are equal…and the past 12 odd years have been a giant cluster F. For everyone. I was just trying to understand Jacey’s frame of mind…and having spent the better part of two days emailing het on her article as I wrote my own…this was the difference we found between our viewpoints. Her experience of military life was so different than my own, she has a hard time understanding what would make an “anchor” suicidal…or in my case, just homicidal.

        • snarkynavywife permalink*
          February 24, 2013 12:14 am

          Bless your heart.

          Next time you want to point out that Jacey doesn’t get it, by all means. Make that case. But don’t assume that all Navy families couldn’t possibly understand, and don’t come back in argument with a “well, not to start a pissing contest BUT…” and commence the pissing contest. My point is WE DO understand, and all the talk about who’s got it worse (our fucked OPTEMPO since the Cold War vs your very fucked OPTEMPO for the last decade==extended moderate pain vs bandaid ripping pain==same fucking thing, so can we stop with all this fucking urine everywhere for gods’ sake, it’s starting to stain the ceiling) doesn’t foster the solidarity we need to get through this bullshit.

          Jacey speaks a language I do not grok, and there are lots of other Navy spouses who similarly do not grok. Just because she doesn’t get it doesn’t mean it’s okay to take a shit on the rest of us. Jesus fucking wept. I am so fucking tired of hearing that we Navy folk just don’t understand because we don’t *really* have to deal with deployments. Shit talk like this discounts and dismisses the bullshit we’ve endured and implies we’ve had a fucking cake walk while you guys are doing the *real* milspouse work. Which, hey, if that helps you through this bullshit, then by all means. Just keep that shit to yourself, if you please. Solidarity is more important than self-fellating these service-wide martyr complexes.

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