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By Jenny Rea, PhD

The life of a military spouse is one that I can relate to very well. I currently live it, but I also study it. I have found that the struggles I face daily are the same struggles that my fellow military spouses also face. This is of course, to a full or a lesser degree, due to certain life circumstances experienced by various military spouses throughout the world. Here is what I have learned recently…

It’s the military spouse who…

  • experiences higher rates of marital discord and dissatisfaction (Sullivan, Park, & Riviere, 2020).
  • influences their service member’s decision to enter and remain in service and significantly impacts the service member’s morale, well-being, and motivation (Schvey et al., 2022).
  • puts their career and/or educational goals on hold to tend to their family (Mailey, Mershon, Joyce, & Irwin, 2018).
  • is (at times) the sole caregiver – child-rearing while their spouse is deployed, in training, or working long hours (Minnocci & Thorp, 2020). 
  • struggles to find employment (and/or lacks employment that is fulfilling; Mailey et al., 2018).
  • is underemployed, which has been affected by frequent relocations and recurrent breaks/gaps in employment experience. More than half of military spouses say they are working in positions that they are overqualified for (Bogen, 2019).
  • faces repeated and lengthy periods of family separation – not only from their service members but also from family members and close friends (Schvey et al., 2022).
  • may be subject to considerable stress as well as emotional and financial strain as a result of managing the household and “doing it all on their own” while their spouse is away (Schvey et al., 2022).
  • bears the rank of their spouse and feels social pressure to fulfill social requirements as a result (Minnocci & Thorp, 2020). Although military spouses do not have a rank, the rank of their service member can play a role in who military spouses can socially engage with and how they should interact.
  • is an integral part of the military mission by supporting their service members throughout their length of service, including periods of deployment, changes in duty stations (PCS), training opportunities, and when a service member is injured or ill (Schvey et al., 2022).

The concurrent experience of multiple stressors leaves many military spouses carrying much of the family’s “mental load,” and therefore, they likely face a greater need for mental healthcare. What is this ‘mental load,’ you might ask? Essentially, it’s the military spouse bearing the weight of the family’s emotional, intellectual, physical, and social needs. It’s a million thoughts running through their heads – “Tommy needs more one-on-one time with me, the dog needs to go to the vet, the dishes need to get put away, the laundry needs to be folded, the office needs the project done by Friday…” It’s all the household tasks, plus tending to the emotional needs of themselves and their families. It is all these things and more

When the “load” becomes too heavy to carry; when the military spouse feels as though they are doing it all on their own, it can leave them feeling anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed (Minnocci & Thorp, 2020). This inhibits the military spouse’s ability to take care of themselves and others. 

As we consider the research, we know that if one individual in the family experiences stress or poor mental health, then the well-being of the military family as a whole is likely affected as well. Although mental health problems among the military community are highly prevalent, many do not seek the mental health care they need due to stigma.  

To learn more, stay tuned… Part two of this blog post will address how stigma remains a barrier to mental health care among military spouses. It will also cover strategies that may help military spouses reduce their mental load.


  1. You Are Not Alone – Mental Health for Military Spouses (
  2. Check out the resources listed on this OneOp blog: Normalizing the Conversation: Mental Health – Part 1 – OneOp



Bogen, J. (2019, April 17). The dismal career opportunities for military spouses in The Atlantic. Retrieved from 

Mailey, E. L., Mershon, C., Joyce, J., & Irwin, B. C. (2018). “Everything else comes first”: A mixed- methods analysis of barriers to health behaviors among military spouses. BMC Public Health, 18, 1-13. 

Minnocci, M. K., & Thorp, S. R. (2020, July 31). Mental health stigma and military spouses. Retrieved from Mental health stigma and military spouses (

Schvey, N. A., Burke, D., Pearlman, A. T., Britt, T. W., Riggs, D. S., Carballo, C., & Stander, V. (2022). Perceived barriers to mental healthcare among spouses of military service members. Psychological services, 19(2), 396. 

Sullivan, K. S., Park, Y., & Riviere, L. A. (2022). Military and nonmilitary stressors associated with mental health outcomes among female military spouses. Family Relations, 71(1), 371–388. 


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