‘I didn’t sign up to be to be in the army’: The untold suffering of military spouses

“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)

This article appeared in Brisbane’s Courier Mail byGinger Gorman, news.com.au June 2, 2017.



  1. This is one area that I have never thought about. Now looking back, a large amount of wives/partner must have lived through our hell in the service as much as we did and especially my wife, just soldiered on and gave me all of her support through thick and thin. To the wives of the defence members, from me, thank you for looking after our soldiers, your husband/partners and may the rest of your lives be more peaceful than what it was when we served. Thank You All.

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