Combat the Silence: How Blue Star Families is confronting stigma around mental health

Blue Star Families is bringing reinforcements to the military’s fight against an insidious and seemingly relentless enemy: mental health issues.

The explosive growth of mental health issues is affecting active-duty military service members, veterans and their families, which, in turn, is fueling rising rates of suicides in these groups.

According to the Department of Defense, a staggering 22 active-duty military and veterans die by suicide every day. Some organizations that support veterans argue that the rate is higher.

Vicky Perkins.

In a report released in October 2023, the Department of Defense reported 492 suicides of active-duty personnel took place in 2022. That was less than the 524 reported in 2021, but the 2022 number represented an increase in the suicide rate per 100,000 by 3%.

The report also said 168 military family members died by suicide during this same year.

To help in the fight against this trend, Blue Star Families, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting military families, recently launched “Combat the Silence,” a national campaign to raise awareness of the continuing mental health issues in the military.

“The campaign is about teaching military spouses and peers of active-duty and veterans how to recognize signs of a mental health crisis and how to intervene in a safe and effective way,” Vicky Perkins, senior director of impact programs for Blue Star Families, said.

Perkins, a military spouse for 21 years, started with Blue Star Families as a volunteer nine years ago and now works for the organization’s national office managing programs that fulfill Blue Star Families’ mission.

“We have to look at the entire military family,” Perkins said about addressing mental health issues. “Family members are likely the first ones to notice a serious behavior change in a loved one, like severe mood swings or a loss of appetite.

“Also, family members can be susceptible to mental health issues, so we must look out for them, too. We focus on intervention rather than prevention. We want to get ahead of these problems.”


The way Blue Star Families created an environment of safe and effective intervention was to create the Support Circles Program. This program is open to anyone who is military-connected and has a concern about a military spouse, family member or friend.

These support circles usually consist of 8-10 such family members, who then participate in a virtual eight-week nonclinical course.

Need help?

For more information about the Combat the Silence program or about the Support Circles Program, click here.

In case of immediate crisis, support is available by calling or texting 988 (press 1 for the Veteran Crisis Line) or via chat at

“We want to confront mental health stigma and address the potential for suicide through peer-based support and education,” Perkins said. “We want to help people recognize the range of things they should look out for and provide them with essential resources for early crisis detection.

“We empower these family members and friends with tools and resources they can use to intervene before a tragedy happens. And we provide intervention training — for instance, how to ask someone in a nonjudgmental way if they are ok.”

Perkins said participants are also provided with contact information they can use if they need to reach out for professional help.

Several nonprofit partners work with Blue Star Families on this mission, including:

  • The American Red Cross, which provides methods for dealing with stress;
  • The PsychArmor Institute, which helps businesses better communicate with military communities, offers guidance on the most effective ways to interact with military personnel;
  • TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), which provides programs to support grieving family members of fallen military members;
  • Spiritune, which is a mobile app that offers music therapy programs.


Mental health issues in active-duty military and veterans are well documented. While it is usually equated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related to battlefield experiences, mental health issues go well beyond that.

A 2023 Department of Defense report cited reasons for suicide as behavioral health issues (45%), relationship issues (42%), workplace issues (26%) and financial issues (10%).

Some of these reasons are related to the inherent nature of military life.

Military families, on average, move once every two to three years. That leaves many active-duty service members a long way from home and far away from any family support structure — many of them dealing with this challenge for the first time.

The constant moving also gives military families little time to establish roots or connections in any community before they move to their next assignment.

For veterans, transition can be difficult, because many no longer feel valued when they leave the military, and they miss the camaraderie they experienced during their military service.

Perkins said the program is already making tangible progress.

“There has been a major shift when it comes to the military and the topic of suicide,” she said. “People feel more comfortable talking about it and opening up to others. That’s a crucial step.”