Improving Military Mental Health: Spiritune teams up with Blue Star Families

Issue # 
June 10, 2024
Content warning: This post discusses suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 (press 1 for Veteran Crisis Line).

Military families face many unique challenges. On top of the physical and mental demands of combat, active duty members typically need to pack up and move every few years. This can make it difficult for their families to put down roots, find steady employment, and form connections with neighbors.

Blue Star Families (BSF) is one of the largest organizations dedicated to reducing these obstacles and helping military-connected families thrive. “Military families sometimes feel very isolated. They don't feel like they can get connected, so we really work to bridge that gap for them,” explains Vicky Perkins, the nonprofit’s Senior Director of Impact Programs.

With over 12 chapters and 280,000 members across the U.S., Blue Star Families supports military families through in-person events, virtual programs, political advocacy, and partnerships with mission-driven organizations—including Spiritune.

Mental health struggles in the military community

Active duty service members and military veterans are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD than the general population, and intrusive thoughts put them at a heightened risk of suicidal ideation. However, deep-rooted stigmas surrounding mental healthcare prevent the majority of military personnel from seeking help.

“It's very ingrained in their thinking: You don’t talk, you don't share, you don't tell anybody anything,” says Heather Diehl, the Director of Peer Support and Suicide Prevention Programs at BSF. Diehl adds that many service members worry that talking about their mental health struggles will affect their career trajectory—further pushing them to suffer in silence.

Blue Star Families works to tackle these mental healthcare barriers from all angles. Their new Combat the Silence PSA campaign shows those in crisis that they’re not alone, while their Blue Star Support Circles teach military members and their loved ones to recognize early signs of a crisis and safely intervene.

These non-clinical, peer-based cohorts meet virtually once a week for eight weeks. Each week’s session focuses on a different mental health topic—from identifying PTSD to practicing somatic solutions for stress like grounding and guided imagery.

How music medicine can help

Blue Star Support Circle members have access to a free Spiritune membership from Week 1, and Week 3 of the program is dedicated to exploring how music can be medicine for the brain. 

While music therapy may seem like an unexpected salve for the military, it has actually been used to help veterans for centuries, since the early days of World War II

Flash forward to today and scientific meta-analyses confirm that music can be an effective treatment for anxiety and PTSD. Wondering how such a simple, accessible tool can have such a profound impact? It’s likely due to how listening to music helps regulate the nervous system, triggers the release of hormones like dopamine and serotonin, and fosters neuroplasticity. It’s also a covert way to relax without drawing attention to oneself. 

Spiritune takes it one step further by using the Iso principle—the technique of listening to music that matches your current mood before guiding you into your desired emotion. For example, if a listener is currently feeling depressed but wants to feel peaceful, our personalized Spiritune track will start a bit low pitch and drawn out and low-to-no tempo. Then, we’ll gradually add more musical elements that have structure. The rhythm, pitch, timbre, and other elements will adjust to feel more positive and calm.

"For military families and veterans, who often face unique and challenging mental health issues, music can serve as a powerful, accessible, non-invasive form of therapy. Music-based support is particularly effective as it can be seamlessly integrated into daily routines, providing ongoing comfort and relief,” says Jamie Pabst, Spiritune’s Founder & CEO.

Spiritune seeks to provide a way for military members to cope with emotions like fear, anger, and hypervigilance in the moment—and there’s evidence to show it’s working. 

Diehl, who facilitates all Blue Star Support Circles, notes that the group feedback on Spiritune has been overwhelmingly positive. Military members are pressing play to help them fall asleep, stay focused at work, relax, and more. She tells the story of one veteran who used to go full-throttle on his motorcycle as a way to release his anger. Since listening to Spiritune before rides, he’s “let up on the throttle a little bit” and enjoys the journey more—a powerful metaphor for how music can change the way we interact with the world. 

Diehl and Perkins—both military spouses themselves—note that one goal of Blue Star Support Circles is to inspire members to share their learnings with their friends and family, creating concentric circles of change. 

Just yesterday, Diehl was in a meeting with a veteran who told her that playing Spiritune has been helpful for his son who has ADHD. She also recently spoke with a veteran who shared the app with a friend who was struggling with alcoholism and found it to be a helpful resource while in rehab.

“It’s definitely making a difference in the lives of our participants. I see how it's helping veterans and it's also helping veterans’ friends and family,” she says. 

So many people in the program have asked about how to share the app that Spiritune has created a friends and family code in response. “It was impacting their lives so much and they wanted to share it with others in their community. We're so grateful that Jamie opened up that opportunity for them to be able to do that,” says Perkins.

The app is also a “Blue Star Perk” that military family members can download for free. Spiritune is honored to partner with Blue Star Families and looks forward to continuing to bring accessible mental health tools to those who need them most.

Pabst says, “Our partnership with Blue Star Families and the Support Circles program is essential in bringing this therapeutic tool to military families and veterans, offering them the relief and community they so greatly deserve."

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