Despite the small cultural changes over the last decade, there is still a stigma in the military community regarding mental health issues. While it may be stronger for active duty troops and veterans, military spouses may also continue to carry deep shame around this issue.
It’s awkward to bring up to your military PCM. There’s the fear of admitting weakness. The dread that somehow, even though it’s not “supposed” to, it will end up on a permanent record somewhere and ruin a promising career. Or, maybe worst of all, that the doc will slap a medication bandage on the problem and hope it will resolve itself.
It’s weird to bring up mental health to your spouse or friends. Unless they have similar experiences, they might not understand. They will offer sympathetic phrases. Or they might clam up or avoid you.
But mental health concerns, like anxiety or depression, don’t get better when you ignore them.
When you just can’t talk about it to anyone else, it’s time to contact a Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC).
MFLC’s are free and confidential licensed counselors and are available at all military bases and in DoDEA schools. Active duty, Reserve, and Guard troops, DOD civilian expeditionary force employees, and their dependents or surviving family members can access these services.
When you meet with an MFLC, everything is off the record. Your counselor does not take notes at the sessions. No one in your chain of command or your PCM will be notified. Meeting times and places are flexible, based on what works for you and your counselor.
What happens when you meet with an MFLC?
The first step is making contact. There are often fliers with contact information posted in various places on base or included in a welcome aboard packet. You could also contact your unit’s Family Readiness Officer or your installation’s Military and Family Support Center. Another way to find a MFLC is through a unit event, like a family fun day or hail and farewell. MFLCs are also in all DoDEA schools and available in on-base child development centers.
For adults, you can schedule a confidential meeting at a time and place that works for you and the MFLC. Many MFLCs will meet outside of normal working hours and at off-base locations. This is helpful if you are working to heal yourself without involving or alerting your command and community.
What happens in your meeting stays strictly between you and the MFLC. You are free to discuss anything that is troubling you or concerns that you have. As military-connected individuals, many aspects of our lives are intertwined with the military. The military affects so many things, from jobs to location to child care to marriages or family life.
All of these things are fair game. MFLCs are here to help you work through concerns or trouble spots, as well as larger mental health issues that do not require medical interventions. Talk about your career stress, your marriage, your body issues, or worries about parenting.
Your counselor will not take notes during your session, but may come to a session with ideas to help you process your concerns. There are no records of your meetings with the MFLC and your command will never find out if you receive these services. There is strict confidentiality, except in cases where an individual may be an immediate threat to themselves or others.
What about children?
Military-connected children shoulder so much at very young ages. Between deployments and frequent moves, our children have experienced a lot of changes and separations.
MFLCs can also help children process mental health concerns, stress, or worries. There are MFLCs stationed at DoDEA schools both stateside and overseas. Your child can meet with these counselors privately, during school hours or after school. The counselors can also meet with your family as well. Many MFLCs working with school-aged children will meet at neutral locations, such as parks or playgrounds or after sports practices.
In order for your child to see a MFLC, you will need to sign a consent form. This acknowledges that your child will be receiving counseling support and that the topics discussed will remain confidential.
If you attend school on base, you might have already signed this form as part of the standard enrollment or beginning of the year package. If your child attends a non-DoDEA school, you will likely need to sign a consent form at the time that services begin.
We all have struggles.
Having free, 100 percent confidential counselors available to work with the military community is an amazing benefit. We have access to help that will not carry those negative associations or stigma. If you struggle, reach out to the MFLCs on your installation.
Help is just a phone call away.
By Meg Flanagan