Providing therapy to military-connected clients with PTSD during the pandemic has raised my awareness about the intersection between trauma symptoms, COVID-19-related anxiety and distress, and military values that can help individuals cope with the outbreak like having good situational awareness, taking individual responsibility, applying discipline, and striving for the larger mission to maintain safety and protect others. My clinical work has also led me to think more about how the pandemic is impacting military members and their families overall. Although research has looked at the impact of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being on individuals in the US and other countries, there has been less focus on how it may uniquely be affecting the military. According to Guo et al (2020), when looking at the impact of COVID-19 on the military across the world including Russia, US, France, and India:
“Military personnel have been a major task force in combating COVID-19. Given that military personnel are already at risk for mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD) during non-pandemic times, the increased workload and stress that come with COVID-19 may increase the likelihood of psychological distress.”
Guo et al (2020) report that in a study of 642 individuals, those working at military hospitals reported rates of anxiety at 29% and depression at 36%. Concerns about themselves or loved ones being infected by COVID-19 were identified as risk factors. In order to address COVID-19-related distress in the military globally, the authors argue that early intervention is warranted, underscoring that this population, which serves others, needs access to mental health services themselves.
Relatedly, in the article, Survey Shows Widening Cracks in Service Member Mental Health and Benefits During COVID, Scott Maucione (2020) summarizes the results of a survey conducted by Blue Star Families that examined the toll of the pandemic on the US military and veterans. The survey highlighted gaps in support or services and the particular hardship on women and minorities. Based on those who responded to the survey:
The Department of Defense has implemented some measures to help Service members during the pandemic; for example, military personnel can carry over up to 120 days of leave until 2023. In addition, the Defense Health Agency and TRICARE issued changes to encourage and expand telehealth services.
Looking ahead, the Blue Star Families’ Data Analysis Working Group provided several thoughtful actions for consideration in the white paper, COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (https://covid19militarysupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CMSI-White-Paper.pdf). These include the following recommendations, which are taken verbatim from the report:
The white paper flagged that military families need support and policy initiatives in advance of the next emergency to address child care access, build financial resilience, and establish community partnerships and local resources. These preemptive efforts will help mitigate stressors before the next crisis arrives and enable the military to adapt to a more virtual world.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Dr. Paula Domenici, Ph.D., is the Director of Civilian Training Programs at the Cetner for Deployment Psychology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD.
Guo et al (19 June 2020) https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/185/9-10/e1401/5859595
COVID-19 Military Support Initiative (presented by Booz/Allen/Hamilton) The Impact of COVID-19 on the Military and Veterans: What We Learned, and What We Can Do https://covid19militarysupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CMSI-White-Paper.pdf