It took a while to comprehend the full impact of my husband’s decision — his choice to return to active duty after a 19 year break in service. I was supportive, but I didn’t fully grasp how it would affect our entire family. That is until October of 2012.
Our son had just begun his second year of college and had been excited to start the new school year. Nothing in his demeanor nor his actions indicated any problems out of the ordinary other than college homesickness. You can imagine my shock when I received the call that brought me to my knees. My son wasn’t ok.
He had tried to commit suicide.
With a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and PTSD similar to that of a 3 time combat vet, my son had lost all hope and chose to self-medicate utilizing prescription meds and alcohol in an attempt to take his own life. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the guilt, fear and anger that I felt. It was because of this life — the military life — that my baby wasn’t ok.
I had prepared myself for the potential behavioral and mental health impact war might have on my husband — a combat engineer in the US Army — but not for my child. We were fortunate; quick thinking college counselors and a comprehensive treatment plan saved our son, but many military families aren’t so lucky.
A recent study from USC found that 26% of all military teens have suicide ideation as part of their internal dialog and reality. This statistic is deeply disheartening. In order to fight against this epidemic, my son and I have set out to share our experience in order to help others with Living Thru Crisis: an education and seminar program to help families find hope when dealing with suicide ideation, depression and addiction in their teen.
As a community we must begin to educate our leaders, teachers and families to recognize the early warning signs and at-risk behaviors to prevent one more life from being lost. We must also strengthen each family member by providing coping skills to handle the stress, chaos and fear which oftentimes accompany military life. Finally, we must create an environment where open and honest discussions can take place, encouraging family members to reach out when they find themselves in crisis.
For the most part, the military has done well creating programs which help service members and families navigate the logistics of military life, however these efforts can be improved by providing a support system which connects others with the tools to deal with the emotional toll from years of war.
This is where Right Side Up: Find Your Way When Military Life Turns You Upside Down comes into play; a guide which tackles the realities of military life and helps the reader navigate the daily stress, chaos and change that is part of it. Tools are available to help discover balance and happiness, utilizing strategies which focus on needs, personality, and insights.
Stronger military families mean a stronger nation; as a nation we must do a better job supporting the families of those that serve. Suicide ideation, depression, PTS and addiction are serious issues, not only for our veterans and service members, but in our military families as well.
My son’s attempt at taking his life made me see that no family is exempt from the impact of war. No matter how attentive, loving or prepared you feel as a military family — there is always a risk. And it’s time that we do something about it. We must address this crisis and provide information, resources and support for those who are suffering and we must take action now. Only then can we begin to eliminate the stigma of getting help and put an end to the loss of life that is occurring in our community.
***Known by military spouses around the world as The Direction Diva, Judy Davis is a motivational speaker, lifestyle blogger, advocate and author of Right Side Up: Finding Your Way When Military Life Turns You Upside Down. A military spouse herself, Judy blogs, writes and speaks with a passion for changing the hearts of the military community and shares T.I.P.s (Tools, Information, and Perspective) to help military families become stronger. To connect with Judy, read her blog or obtain information about speaking topics, seminars & programs visit The Direction Diva (Inspiring Military Spouses) or Living Thru Crisis (Helping Military Families Find Hope)
“Been there, done that.” I grew up a military dependent – born in the Army, breathed in the Army, bred in the Army, raised Army . . . Army was my world. I even got to grow up learning to resist a communist invasion, LOL (and wry smile). I won’t go into it except to say it caused problems. CPTSD, PTSD, a touch of DID on the side, nightmares for 48 years (I never had a good dream – thought THAT was normal as well) and suicidal / depression issues from the time I was 12 or so. I got better due to training I had (part of that ‘special’ education) and getting help and helping others.
I am glad to see some of the dependents are getting some of the support they need, and some of the recognition they deserve. It is very hard being a military child, especially when you, too, are deployed overseas. It’s hard being shuffled around. And you are exposed and/or live in the military culture. It is two or more different worlds you have to live in: the military one, the family culture, then the culture you have outside – which may change – and then become a culture unto itself, such as you find on any bases overseas, and then “daddy” (or mother) is gone.
It’s about time we as a people learned this: it can have some very profound effects on a family, and a child’s life. And work towards identifying those in need, overcoming the natural “Army” culture and our own preservative instincts to hide our problems, and step forth. Thank you.
Jeff, thanks so much for sharing your struggles and I appreciate the comment and support. It’s a problem that is much more prevalent that one would think and we believe that talking about it is the first step in creating programs and initiatives that make a real difference. 🙂 Judy