by John Stinebaugh, Chair of the Working with Military Personnel and their Families Topical Interest Network.
This past Memorial Day, I heard several times how much everyone is looking forward to the long weekend. Camping, family time, and of course barbecuing are the plans for the unofficial start of summertime here in the United States. It is of course coupled with a holiday of remembrance for those who have died in the course of service to others.
As a veteran, the Memorial Day holiday has always been tricky. While it is nice to have those who are well-intentioned thank me for my service, it is a personal reminder that those who I have called brothers and sisters in arms have died and continue to die. I can honestly say that one of the more sobering moments of my life is when the first report of Marines killed in action contained the names of those who had begun their service around the same time as me.
As systemically minded therapists, military culture is one that our mindset uniquely prepares us for. Here is a culture that is voluntarily joined, and deliberately creates new systems and structures around a person. Transitioning out of this system and dealing with the myriad of stresses associated with it can be a real challenge. Those on active duty and veterans alike die by suicide at alarming rates.
This problem has become so difficult that the Commandant of the Marine Corps released a two-page letter on mental wellness to try to stem this tide of loss. Most significantly, he encourages service members to reach out and ask for help. It is after all how we approach other problems in the military, so why not this one?
While I could talk at length about this, and I do hope more conversations follow, I would like to leave you with the following thoughts.
- If you are active duty or a veteran, please ask for help. There are so many of us who will do whatever we can to help in whatever way we can. There are so many more options than you know and we are striving to create more.
- On the same token, if you know a veteran or an active duty service member, ask them if they are ok and then listen to what they have to say. We know this is important in our work and as a group we tend not to ask for the help but will answer someone if asked.
- Consider joining or supporting our Topical Interest Network for Working with Military Personnel and their Families. Our plans for the next two years include competencies for working with this population, webinars on emerging topics like games and their impact on mental wellness, and emerging trends in suicide. We also provide an online forum that includes many veterans or family members of active duty military, all marriage and family therapists. Adding your voice, expertise, and willingness to help will make us a stronger team.
John Stinebaugh is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Colorado and Wyoming and has been in community mental health for over 12 years. He has worked extensively with youth and families in his clinical work, and has developed numerous programs including dealing with first episode psychosis, at risk youth and families, telehealth services and supervision in his time as an administrator. He is a recipient of the AAMFT certificate in leadership from its inaugural cohort. John enjoys disc golf, geocaching, reading, anything Star Wars, and spending time with his wife and two cats.