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Unemployment and Depression

Sacrificing for Service: Military Spouses Can Break Free from Unemployment and Depression

How Unemployment and Depression Affect Military Spouses

Everyone knows that people get down in the dumps when they are out of work, but did you know the “out-of-work-blues” can become full-blown depression that often requires medication to resolve? Unemployment and depression have strong ties. While recent unemployment rates for the United States hover around 4.1 percent, one subset of our population experiences rates significantly higher than average: An unbelievable 90% of female military spouses are underemployed or fully unemployed.

A 2013 Gallup survey found that “About one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression — almost double the rate among those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less.”

About one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression

Among military spouses, that number costs the US economy almost 1 billion dollars a year in lost income tax, unemployment, and healthcare costs. That is approximately 600,000 educated capable women who are not working, but want to. It also means these women are at higher risk of suffering from stress and stress-related disorders, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, and others.

And depression isn’t the only health issue linked to unemployment. There is also clear link between long-term unemployment and the use of medication to control depression, medication for pain, cholesterol, and erectile dysfunction, too. Turns out, work and employment are important for bodily health and mental well-being.

Limited Employment Opportunities for Military Spouses

Traditionally, most military spouses just settle or accept their employment situation; while others pursue more versatile degrees that can travel with them. Careers like nursing and education are common choices; however, this re-education costs money. These families are faced with two options: use their GI Bill (if they have one) or incur additional debt in the form of student loans.

Unfortunately, neither of these options really resolve the problem. Military families experience unpredictable and frequent moves (oftentimes out of the country), and this brings significant breaks in employment; certificates, licensing, and testing, all take time and resources, resulting in more expenditures and more lost income. Not to mention, frequent job changes leave the worker re-starting at every new place of employment, resulting in lateral career moves, loss of seniority, and sometimes steps backwards. It’s a perfect storm for unemployment and depression to take their toll on the women supporting their husbands in the military.

Military families experience unpredictable and frequent moves (oftentimes out of the country), and this brings significant breaks in employment

For decades, settling or accepting the situation were the only two viable options, besides remaining under or unemployed. This left military families struggling on one income unable to build savings, or cover unexpected expenditures, and jeopardizing their financial health. It is widely known that financial stress contributes to marital stress. Unhappy marital situations, as well as unemployment and depression, are all contributors to health problems. This is a toxic combination for the physical and mental health of a military spouse.

There’s a Better Way: Small Businesses for Vets Could be the Answer

In the post-WWII and Post-Korean war eras, 40-49% of veterans started businesses with help of the GI Bill. Yet, since 9/11, only 4% of the 3.6 million veterans who have served have started small businesses. This decline is due, in part, to the restructuring of the GI Bill so it can no longer offer low-interest loans to start small businesses.

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In addition, the economic crisis of 2007 further exacerbated the situation. These small businesses do not just benefit one veteran! Statistics show every veteran-owned business typically employs 2 additional veterans; therefore, it can logically be inferred that by encouraging veteran business ownership 2.8 million jobs can be created in just one year. That is not only good for our economy, but good for the mental and physical health and well being of veterans and their families. Additionally, small businesses can aid in the employment of military spouses needing steady work.

Addressing Unemployment and Depression: The Tide is Shifting

Mark Rockefeller called the U.S. military “..the best entrepreneurship training ground in America.” There is a movement afoot of “vetpreneurs”: veterans leaving the military and starting a business of their own. However, military spouses cannot be left behind: ‘milpreneurs’, as described by Jennifer Griswold in her book “Mission Entrepreneur,” are members of the military community striving to build  their own businesses too.

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Many skills are necessary to be a successful business owner: vision is essential, with grit to back it up; intelligence and education are great, when combined with the work ethic and passion to get the job done. Veterans and their spouses face many challenges in their daily lives that would make the average person stop in their tracks. These challenges help them develop the skills that enable them to be excellent business owners. They have vision, passion, intelligence, grit, and work ethic!

If Not Brick and Mortar, Then What?

Modern military spouses are building businesses and redefining their future, by maintaining portability in their careers. Traditional businesses typically desire traditional employees. These women (and men!) have to find a better way. From telecommuting, blogging, network marketing and virtual businesses, to photography or online services like web-designing and writing, the options today are extensive.

Modern military spouses are building businesses and redefining their future, by maintaining portability in their careers.

They all have some key characteristics in common that make them compatible with military lifestyle: they are flexible, portable, have low start-up costs, and require little to no experience. They all have the same impact on the military spouse: breaking the cycle of unemployment and depression and supporting the better physical and mental health that come with employment.

Employment Issues Don’t Just Affect Military Families

While you may think these situations do not apply to you or your loved ones, they really do. With our economy becoming significantly more global, companies are requiring families to relocate more often; leaving spouses to decide whose career comes first. While many corporate jobs pay enough that the financial stress of one income is not a problem, the emotional stress of being unemployed can take a toll.

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Marriages plagued by resentment and bitterness on behalf of the spouse forced to give everything up are stressful. Marital stress has an impact on your health tantamount to inactivity and smoking. Looking for a mobile career can improve your physical and mental health, while increased income provides for more opportunities to invest and save for your future, give back to those in need, or simply take much needed vacations.

Sometimes the best path to financial and physical wellness is forging your own path as an entrepreneur

Taking Control of Your Future

Financial worries brought on by under employment and unemployment and depression have a significant impact on your body as well as your mind. Sometimes the best path to financial and physical wellness is forging your own path as an entrepreneur, vetpreneur or milpreneur! While starting a business is often viewed as one of the most stressful things a person can do, if one has the vision and grit to get through the early stages of being a business owner, it can be the source of personal fulfillment and economic stability. You can gain long-term health benefits while building a career that you can maintain on your own terms.

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About Mercedes Holmen

Mercedes is a business owner and Executive Consultant with Rodan and Fields. In addition, she works in the field of behavior analysis for children with autism and their families, specializing in preschool aged children. She also has her Masters in Science from University of California at Davis.

View all articles by Mercedes »

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