Military Family Month: Finding Support for New Military Families Facing Perinatal Anxiety and Depression
Military families face many unique stressors that can make the transition to parenthood challenging. Some of the reasons military spouses may experience a higher risk of perinatal mood disorders (PMDs), include: relocations (permanent change of station or PCS), recent/upcoming deployments, stressful jobs, inadequate support systems, fear of welfare for yourself or your partner and the perceived fear (real or not) of affecting your or your spouse’s career.
Recent studies show military spouses who have recently given birth are 2.3 times more likely to experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder compared to civilians in the general population. Of the women sampled, 35% were more likely to become so severely depressed that, without treatment, they were at greater risk of succumbing to self-inflicted harm resulting in death.
Meanwhile, 19.5% of active duty mothers have been shown to screen positive for a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) and are at a higher risk of having suicidal ideation rates than their civilian counterparts.
As we observe Military Family Month, Shelby Roberts, Wayne UNC Health Care Women’s Services Community Liaison, describes her experience with PMADs, the pressures and challenges she faced and shares mental health resources for military families.
After the birth of our first child, we moved over 600 miles away when our daughter was just four weeks old. That left me to establish new care for myself and my baby in a city I knew nothing about.
I did not have much social support, since I was no longer near the military family or friends I knew from the previous base. And, after facing difficulties with my baby, it caused me to isolate myself even more, because I felt like I was doing everything “wrong.”
My husband, the active duty member, worked 12-14 hour days and was gearing up for yet another deployment (his third combat deployment and my first deployment experience). I suffered in silence…whether that was due to my lack of knowledge of postpartum depression and anxiety, or the fact that no one talked about feeling this way, I’m not sure.
When I had our daughter seven years ago, there was a mentality that you needed to be the perfect military spouse so your spouse could excel in their military career. The culture then was one where you weren’t supposed to ask for help, and you weren’t supposed to let on that anything was out of the ordinary at home. Those would be things that would affect the military member, and therefore, affect the mission.
After the birth of our second daughter, I was more seasoned in military spouse-hood; however, the postpartum anxiety I experienced nearly crushed me. We lived in a small town, and the lack of resources was unsettling. I sought help from a military doctor on base, and he looked at me like a deer in the headlights.
By some miracle, there was a female flight doctor available to speak with me that day, and she shared with me about her personal experience and that of other military spouses. It finally made sense to me. Had I not been so lucky to have a doctor that understood, I’m not quite sure what would have happened. She helped me find a program specifically designed for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. That help was about an hour and a half away, but we made it work. When it came time to find resources in my local area that accepted Tricare, they were extremely hard to find.
As the military is finding out, having mission-ready active duty members extends beyond just the active duty member. Families play a large part in this too. Without building up our communities and resources for our families at home, active duty members will have a more difficult time while they are away.
What should a military spouse or active duty member do if they feel like they might need some help?
- Reach out as soon as you can, and talk to supportive and informed people.
- Talk to your spouse, talk to your friend, talk to anyone who will listen. Start by talking to your primary care manager (PCM).
Talking about how you are feeling is the most important step you can take for yourself and your family. Some mothers find it helpful to write down symptoms and feelings prior to an appointment with their PCM. It may also be helpful to take a supportive person with you to the appointment. We have to support one another and help destigmatize the notion that we have to have it all together.
If you need immediate help, please contact one of the national emergency services listed below. They are available 24/7, 365 days a year.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline -
In a time of crisis
- This free and confidential service operates a network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide that are available 24/7.
Postpartum Support International-
Basic Information, Support, and Resources related to PMADs
- The PSI HelpLine is a toll-free telephone number anyone can call to get basic information, support, and resources. The PSI HelpLine is not a crisis hotline and does not handle emergencies. People in crisis should call their physicians, their local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number listed above.
- PSI HelpLine - 1-800-944-4773(4PPD)
- Text Support - 503-894-9453
- PSI Online Provider Directory - Find providers near you who have a special interest in treating and serving families and women experiencing perinatal mental health issues.
- Postpartum Support International offers free online support groups and weekly chats. Learn more on their website.
For local help near Wayne County, contact:
H.E.A.R.T. for Moms Support Group
- First Wednesday of every month at Living Waters Counseling
696-C N Spence Ave, Goldsboro, NC 27534
Partnership for Children of Wayne County
On Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, contact:
Mom, Pop, and Tots - New Parent Support Program
Military and Family Life Counselors
- 919-886-3346 or 919-722-1123