Military members often maintain a tough exterior, ready to respond to any call of duty. It may be a shock to family members when a service member begins to exhibit emotional distress signals. Family members expect a joyful reunion and life going back to “normal”. Many family members do not know how to help when a service member suddenly acts distant, angry, depressed, anxious or sad.
It seem overwhelming and it is easy for family members to feel helpless, but there are certain things a family member can do and say to support and help service members showing signs of emotional distress.
A service member may be more prone to depression during and after deployment. If service members experience the loss or injury of their comrades, they may experience a sense of survival guilt. Even soldiers who weren’t deployed can often feel guilty about not serving.
They may exhibit depression through a loss of energy and interest in activities. Service members may avoid social encounters. More serious emotional distress signs can include thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
It’s important to remember that depression is not something someone can snap-out-of. Depression can attack the character of those experiencing it; you may feel like you don’t know your service member anymore. Try your best to accept your service member as they are now. Help your service member build confidence and ambition by helping him or her set and achieve small goals.
Don’t ask or expect your service member to make important decisions in the midst of depression such as marriage, divorce or changes in career or school. Establishing a simple routine adds consistency and is comforting. Work with your service member to create a routine for your family.
Overall, the best thing may be just to let them know you are there to offer an ear. If the struggles become too intense or there is threat of suicide or harm, direct your service member to a hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
There can be quite a few sources behind anger. Consider a service member coming back from a deployment where they had a strict schedule with well-defined duties. Coming home, re-establishing roles and relationships can be a tough and frustrating task. Reoccurring aggressive behavior or angry outbursts is a common sign of emotional distress.
Service members who were stationed or deployed to an area of heightened danger may return and be overly anxious and protective. Even small, seemingly harmless, actions of children can trigger anxiety, fear and ultimately angry responses.
Talk to your service member about specific triggers. You can work to avoid specific actions, situations or words as well as create coping plans for when the emotion is triggered. Try to maintain a positive outlook toward your service member’s readjustment. Suggest treatment as a viable, non-judgmental solution.
A word of caution: there is a difference between angry, reactionary aggression and serious violent behavior. If your service member is continuously aggressive, especially coupled with abusing alcohol or drugs, violent or abusive, you should enlist outside help. Do not remain in a situation where you do not feel physically safe. You can find ways to help without putting yourself in danger.
By no means are depression and anger the only emotions that signal emotional distress. Here are some general tips to help: