Family

Anxiety and Depression Are Silent Killers Ravaging an Overlooked Community

The author — a military spouse — shares her struggles, her prayer-packed path out of lonely darkness, and her hope for others

While many people report on and lament the growing suicide rates among America’s teenagers and military members, another group is seeing rates climb even higher — and they’re suffering in silence.

The Department of Defense recently released a study on military dependent suicides and the numbers were staggering. In 2017, 186 military dependents (spouses and children) died by suicide.

Of the 186 deceased, 123 were military spouses. Nearly 70 percent of them were female — military wives just like me.

More than 80 percent were under the age of 40.

While numbers for 2018 and 2019 aren’t available yet, some estimate there will be more than 500 annually by next year. This is a crisis and now, more than ever, we need local churches and gospel-centered communicators in our space.

I could easily have been one of those statistics, so I want to share my story in the hope it will help others — and encourage the Christian community to respond to this escalating crisis.

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During the beginning years of my time as a young military spouse, I experienced firsthand the devastating effects of isolation and depression. My husband and I had been married for a little over five years, we had three young children, and orders for a deployment had just been finalized.

I still get emotional when I think about how alone I felt.

At the time, we were stationed about an hour-and-a-half from the nearest military installation.

We were surrounded by an uninvolved civilian community and far from the built-in support system that accompanied active duty military life.

Related: Melania Trump Thanks the Spouses of Our Bravest Men and Women

I wrestled with anxiety and depression. My spouse had boots on the ground somewhere else — and I was left to grapple with the ginormous responsibility he left behind. Having no support, I felt overwhelmed by my situation.

I had no friends, no connections to my new local community — and every day felt like a fight for my life. I would beg God to help me make it to bedtime. Even as a strong believer, I struggled bitterly.

Because of the fears that overtook me at night, I was unable to sleep. My children were ages five, three, and one — so as every parent knows, there was no rest to be had during the day.

My weight yo-yoed up and down. I gained over 30 extra pounds in the months leading up to my husband’s deployment. I was tired and defeated, and I feared there was no way out.

There was no one to ask me important questions such as, “How long has it been since you have been outside?” or “How long have you worn that shirt?” I was totally alone.

Thanks to my faith, however, I was able to find just enough inner strength to do something to make a change.

After about three weeks of no sleep, I decided that I should go and work out. I thought that if I physically exhausted my body, then I was sure to get some shuteye at night. So I packed my three kids into my mini-van and headed to my local YMCA, where there was child care and a smoothie bar.

I took a few group fitness classes — and that first night, I actually slept like a baby.

For three weeks in a row I went back there. I began to lose weight and meet new people. A few of the other stay-at-home moms even invited me for a power shake after working out.

I don’t tell this story to present a fix-all or a simple solution to a massive problem. I share it to highlight how that idea of community and support can make all the difference.

I don’t want to think about what would have happened if I stayed on the road I was traveling. Thankfully, I was able to form friendships with the non-military wives I met, but that’s not always an option or easy to do for military spouses who find themselves in a similarly dark season.

Related: Military Spouses: America’s Secret Weapon

The decline of personal relationships and the desensitizing of the local church to military families has compounded the problem, resulting in a steady increase of military spouse suicides.

As military missionaries, my husband and I believe God is in fierce pursuit of the military community — and that He is calling His church to stand in the gap for those who choose to sacrifice for our country. The only hope of help in this area depends on the prayers and efforts of God’s people.

We need the local church to be aware of how isolating our lives can be, to keep a pulse on what is actually happening within the lives of their military congregation members, and to be proactive about serving these families before they are in crisis.

God has used the dark and hard seasons of my own life to show me how to care for others who are facing the same challenges and hurts. He has equipped me to carry a light into shadowy places. He has called me to carry a very secular people into His sacred space through worship, His Word, and devout communities of prayer and service.

Here’s the ask for the church: Know that this life of sacrifice is a struggle. We have made the choice to stand behind a service member. That means we give up our dreams, our careers, our extended families, and our friends.

We volunteer to move and rebuild our lives every two to four years. We pack up our belongings and our hearts with the hope that we will have what we need to face tomorrow.

Please stand beside us, walk with us, and bring us into fellowship with you.

You never know: It could mean the difference — literally — between life and death.

You can begin by joining us for a special livestream interactive prayer event, She Loves Out Loud, on Feb. 15, 2020.

On that date, I’ll be leading us in praying over this community and all those who so selflessly serve and sacrifice for others.

Megan Brown is a seasoned military spouse, a homeschooling mother of four, an author, a Bible teacher, and a military missionary. She is stationed with her husband, MSgt. Keith Brown, in middle Georgia with their four high-energy children.

The opinions expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LifeZette.

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