Today is Part 2 of my interview with Bridget C. Cantrell, PhD, expert on military PTSD and author of several books about military life (read part 1 here). More information about Dr. Cantrell and her work can be found on her website, Hearts Toward Home.
3) Many soldiers who come home from military service are afraid to seek mental health services at their VA, or to get mental health services at all. How can concerned partners encourage their soldiers to seek help?
Yes, this is very true that the stigmas of seeking help for the service member can interfere. However, with that being said, the help is available and things are changing to encourage our troops to reach out to address the issues they are experiencing. It is important for them to know that it is to be expected to have some challenges with sleep, irritability, relationships, etc. The military have providers on the bases, and there are organizations that provide services for our service members and their families. There are also community and veteran service organizations that have programs to explore. So one needs to be creative and determined to seek out what works best for them to get the help they need to move forward.
The VA medical centers, vet centers, etc. have services from all capacities. If a family member is concerned about their service member, please do not be passive. It is entirely possible that your service member will not feel comfortable talking to their family members, so having another veteran available who can take them for coffee and give them a place to talk is extremely helpful. Know what your resources are in your area, and if you are not sure, contact your vet center or VA medical center for information.
4) Related to the above question, there are few providers who are appropriately trained to treat military-related PTSD. What suggestions do you have for people who do not have a provider who specializes in military-related PTSD in their area?
I always tell the troops that I speak with to be wise consumers, and this means if you go to a mental health provider and you feel they do not understand what you are saying, are not well informed about military culture, PTSD, and the issues that you are having, then seek out another provider who is specially trained to work with veterans. It is the therapeutic relationship that is vital to overall improvement. This is also an opportunity for you to also teach the therapist about what it means to be in the military, the types of experiences you had, and how to see the world from your eyes.
It is as equally important for the mental health provider to do some self-inventory to determine if they are adequately trained and have the skills needed to properly work with this population. Cultural competency is essential.
5) Suicide is also a huge risk for returning soldiers. When should a partner be concerned, and what strategies do you suggest for preventing a tragedy?
Yes, indeed suicide is a major issue for our troops. A partner should be concerned when they see that their service member is pulling away, isolating, not engaging in family or social activities or using alcohol, and substances to self-medicate. You might even find that they are pulling away from their peers (fellow comrades) and not engaging in the manner in which they used to. If their patterns change and they seem out of sorts, please do not sit back. It is time to be pro-active. Even those in uniform can sense when their buddy is out of sorts, and they must be proactive by connecting with them and calling in the “reinforcements” if need be. Don’t let fear hold you back from intervening to save a life. This is a priority!
6) “Compassion fatigue” can become a hazard within a relationship between a soldier and their partner. Can you tell us a little about what compassion fatigue is and how to prevent it?
It is important that loved ones have their support system in place and have resources that are available to them so they can meet these demands in a better state of mind. Compassion fatigue can clearly be something that can have negative effects on the relationship. It is difficult for the partner to be the caretaker as well. The roles are confusing and multifaceted. This stress can create resentment and leave the relationship in a very fragile state. It is best for both partners to define their roles and bring in assistance so they can have a more balanced connection.
7) What resources do you recommend where partners of soldiers can learn more and/or receive support?
It is vital for our warriors to get registered with the Veterans Administration Medical Centers (VAMC) and to be assessed for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and along with whatever issues they are dealing with. There are vet centers in various towns that offer counseling, and college and university campuses have veteran representatives and centers that also have various services available to students who have served in the military. You can also go to my website, Hearts Toward Home, which will give information about the workshops I conduct on PTSD, and the issues of reintegration for both the warriors and their family members. It also describes the books I have written about PTSD, deployment stress, the issues that challenge our warriors and their families and how to work most effectively to manage these challenging events: Down Range To Iraq and Back, Once a Warrior: Wired for Life, Workbook for Once a Warrior: Wired for Life, and Souls Under Siege: The Effects of Multiple Troop Deployments and How to Weather the Storm.
Thank you, Dr. Cantrell, for sharing this outstanding information!