“As a community, we’ve started to turn our thoughts towards veterans who die by suicide. But who is paying attention to the silent distress of military families?”
Psychologist Dr Gail MacDonell is an expert on the mental health of military partners. She is executive director of the Australian Families of the Military Research and Support Foundation. Over the last 20 years has worked with approximately 3000 partners. She is the wife of a veteran
Her body of research clearly lays out the detrimental impacts of military service on the mental and physical health of partners. In one eye-opening paper investigating the wellbeing of partners of Vietnam veterans, the 76 participants list an astounding array of negative behaviours in their wives including: hypersensitivity to physical stimuli like noise, anger, aggression, temper outbursts and mood swings, withdrawal and long periods of silence, manipulation, possessiveness and jealousy, nightmares, insomnia and verbal abuse.
In turn, the women go on to cite numerous mental and physical health issues they are suffering, seemingly as a consequence of their husband’s erratic and disturbing conduct — everything from gastrointestinal problems to cardiovascular disease, cancer and asthma.
The article relates the experiences of three spouses Olympia Yarger, Donna Reggett and Bek Harding as well as comments from Dr Stephanie Hodson, National Manager for Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)