ADMIRAL’S WIFE: Spouses Seeking Psych Care on Base Face, “Misdiagnosis, Lengthy Waiting Periods, Red Tape”

Military Suicide and Military Families – Part 2

by Peter Bernstein, PhD, DAPA, MFT, CMT

The Bernstein Institute, March 12, 2012

In my last post I sought to bring attention to an overlooked aspect of the current tragedy of military suicide – suicide within military families. While hard statistics are unavailable at this time, anecdotal evidence indicates elevated levels of suicides and suicide attempts by military spouses, due to high levels of stress and secondary trauma.

Dr. Peter Bernstein

I quoted two military wives – Ms. Deborah Mullen, wife of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, and Kristy Kaufmann, wife of an Army soldier and executive director of the Code of Support Foundation – as they eloquently spoke out about this troubling issue. Deborah pointed out that stigma still exists against military spouses admitting their mental health challenges and post-traumatic stress.

Depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and self-medication with alcohol and drugs have become a part of military spouses’ lives, as well as the lives of their active duty and veteran partners.

I ended my last post with the question: What happens for the desperate spouses who do gather the courage to seek treatment within the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs mental health services? I draw my information here directly from Ms. Mullen’s address to the 2011 Military Health System Annual Conference.
The experience of spouses who seek help is “disappointing”, Deborah states. “Misdiagnosis. Lengthy waiting periods. Red tape.” Obstacles that “discourage and indeed damage the healing process”.

At the same military post hospital, she reveals, two spouses who sought treatment for help with classic PTS symptoms – one with suicidal thoughts – were prescribed five and seven medications each, with no followup appointments. And, “Neither was ever referred for psychological help.”

I’m going to make a very strong statement here. I believe a system that would allow a general practitioner to prescribe multiple, heavy-duty medications for psychological symptoms and then not see the patient again, is broken. This is especially true for patients with suicidal thoughts. Several prescription anti-depressants have been recently shown to create or intensify suicidal thought ideation. I believe the actions of the doctors at this post hospital were unethical and unconscionable.

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