Supporting Spouses and Loved Ones of Military Personnel

Noah Warren
September 27, 2023

When we think of the impact of military service on mental health, we often focus solely on the experiences of the service members themselves. However, it is essential to recognize that the challenges faced by military personnel reverberate throughout their families, particularly spouses and loved ones.

Deployments and the experience of vicarious trauma can significantly affect the mental well-being of these individuals. Understanding and addressing these challenges is crucial for the overall health and resilience of military families.

military personnel

Deployments: The Strains of Separation

One of the most significant mental health challenges faced by military spouses and loved ones is the prolonged periods of separation due to deployments. Being separated from a partner for extended periods can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and even depression. The uncertainty and constant worry about the safety and well-being of their loved ones can take a toll on their mental health.

As military families navigate through multiple deployments, they often experience unique stresses, such as the increased burden of household responsibilities, financial concerns, and single parenting. A study by Mitchell and colleagues highlighted these challenges, indicating that military spouses reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, and caregiver burden during deployment periods.

Vicarious Trauma: The Emotional Toll

Not only do military spouses experience the strain of separation, but they also face the psychological impact of vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma refers to the emotional distress that arises from repeatedly hearing about or witnessing traumatic events experienced by their military partners. The daily exposure to their loved one's war stories, experiences of violence, and loss can leave lasting emotional imprints.

Vicarious trauma can manifest as symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, and heightened anxiety. A study conducted by Renshaw and colleagues found that military spouses had higher rates of distress and PTSD symptoms compared to civilians. These findings emphasize the need to address the psychological well-being of military spouses, who play a crucial support role for their partners.

Support and Resilience: Empowering Military Families

Acknowledging the mental health challenges faced by military spouses and loved ones is just the first step. It is essential to ensure that appropriate support structures are in place to bolster their resilience and well-being. Here are some strategies that can help:

Open communication

Encouraging open and honest communication within military families can facilitate understanding and provide a safe space for expressing emotions and concerns.

Building social connections

Connecting with other military spouses and loved ones can provide a sense of community and support. Local support groups, online forums, and military family organizations can serve as valuable resources for sharing experiences and seeking guidance.

Seeking professional support

Mental health professionals can offer individual or family therapy to help spouses and loved ones navigate the unique challenges they face. Therapeutic approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based interventions have shown effectiveness in addressing anxiety and stress-related symptoms.


Encouraging self-care practices, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy, can help alleviate stress and promote overall well-being.


The mental health challenges faced by spouses and loved ones of military personnel require understanding, compassion, and tailored support. The strains caused by deployments and vicarious trauma demand attention and intervention to ensure the well-being of military families. By fostering a supportive network and providing access to mental health resources, we can help these individuals navigate their unique experiences and promote their resilience.

If you or someone you know is a military spouse or loved one experiencing mental health challenges, consider reaching out to local military support organizations or mental health professionals who specialize in working with military families. Remember, seeking support is a sign of strength and a crucial step towards healing and thriving. Contact Roots Mental Wellness now.

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Noah Warren
Director of Business Development