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Focusing on the greater military community’s mental health

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With Dustin’s ten-month Army deployment to Afghanistan last year, Sarrah took command at home. Supporting his mission, she cared for their two boys far from friends and family, homeschooled them during a national health crisis, and prepared the entire family for a cross-country move. Dustin credits her for being his rock and the all-star of their family, but this type of stress comes with a cost. A 2021 study revealed that 25 percent of military spouse respondents report a current diagnosis of a generalized anxiety disorder, significantly higher than their civilian counterparts.

It’s been a hard couple of years for all Americans as we’ve waded through uncharted territory together. But, if there’s one community that needs us to keep a pulse on their well-being right now, it’s our military. Few people realize the toll the national pandemic and ripples of a foreign war have caused and exacerbated in mental and behavioral health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse — an already known struggle for some of our military and veterans. But often forgotten are the efforts needed to support the homefront and its impact on our military families’ well-being, too.

We can help by speaking up about our greater military community’s mental health during Military Appreciation Month. Mental well-being for the force and their families is essential now more than ever to ensure our All-Volunteer Force remains mission-ready as global strife intensifies.

Our country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the current Russian-Ukrainian War have been jarring and stressful. As the leader of an organization that researches and advocates for military families year-round, I’ve witnessed firsthand the effects of this turbulent year. As a nation, we need to be aware that increased anxiety and stress in our military families jeopardize mission readiness and puts us at risk of not being able to defend our country in a crisis.

With this in mind, a simple act of recognition and appreciation can go a long way right now. And it’ll be even more meaningful outside of November’s Veterans Day, when most Americans know to show support. Now is the time to honor and acknowledge our currently serving military — including their families.

One of the most effective ways we can help military families manage the mental and physical stresses of military service is by increasing understanding and dialogue between the military community and broader American society.

This month, we call upon our fellow citizens to participate in national and local exercises expressive of our recognition and gratitude. Something as simple as organizing letters of appreciation, bringing together local organizations or creating community bracelets as a symbol of support can go a long way. Incredible things can happen when we take the time to care for one another.

Kathy Roth-Douquet is the CEO of Blue Star Families.Kevin Schmiegel is a 20-year Marine Veteran and former nonprofit CEO who now serves as a strategic advisor to purpose-driven organizations

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