by Alexandria Brimage-Gray, U.S. Army Reserve Command
Admitting to, or seeking help for a mental health problem can seem daunting for military members, but it does not have to be.
With May recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, the counselors with the Army Reserve Psychological Health Program offered some insights on making this process less stressful for soldiers, family members, and the command team.
The role of the Army Reserve Psychological Health Program is to evaluate the soldier’s situation, determine the severity of his or her symptoms, and consider service history and geographical location in order to identify the civilian or military sponsored services for which he or she may be eligible.
“Mental Health Awareness Month is very important because there continues to be stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues,” said Christina Wildy, Director of Psychological Health, 81st Regional Support Command, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “This is a great time to provide education about mental health so that we can bridge the gap between the fact, fiction, and the stigma associated with mental health.”
A major concern for most soldiers is that their career may be impacted if they seek help for a mental health condition.
“As counselors, we let them know that this is not true. We let them know that we are here for them and provide information about the types of services that we can offer and the things that are available to them,” said Wildy. “There is no one size fits all for what I do. It is tailored to the specific needs of the soldier, and takes into consideration geographical location, support systems available to the soldier, and most importantly, considers the ability and willingness of the soldier to engage in the treatment recommendation. We cannot force a soldier to seek treatment, but I can only encourage and educate him on the benefits of seeking treatment.”
Wildy also says that separation from military service is done on a case-by-case basis and that a soldier will not be disciplined or frowned upon for coming forward. It will not hinder promotion. Soldiers who experience an issue can improve with treatment and be retained and serve out their careers. Soldiers who don’t seek treatment may find themselves struggling until they simply cannot perform any longer.
For leaders and family members, it is critical that they foster an environment that encourages their soldier to voice concerns and feel comfortable seeking help.
“The hardest thing for soldiers to do is admit that they need help. When they do reach out, we really need to value the strength it took to do it,” said Stacy Feig, Army Reserve Psychological Health Program Director, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Feig states that if you manage problems, struggles, or concerns when they are small, it is often much easier and takes less time to learn skills and repair damage than if you wait until there’s a crisis.
When a leader or family member suspects his/her soldier may be experiencing a mental health concern, Wildy advises them to take action.
“Leaders, be supportive and not afraid. Many times, leaders are afraid when they hear the word mental health. They don’t fully understand or know what to do, and they are concerned that they may make things worse,” said Wildy. “Be supportive of the soldier, know what he needs in order to restore himself to wellness, and most importantly understand that the soldier is not a liability.”
To family members, Wildy says, “If you see the signs, say something. If something is not right or seems different about your soldier after a deployment, just give us a call. We’ll talk it through and help figure out what he/she may need to feel better.”
Wildy states that education and outreach are critical to getting a person help, but too often the warning signs are not known or overlooked.
“Be on the lookout for changes in temperament, sleep patterns, spending habits, giving personal items away, things they say or do, appearance, not taking medication, erratic behavior, and staying up for long periods of time,” said Wildy. “That is why it is very important that we educate the commanders, units, and conduct postventions after soldier deaths. We attend Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events to be visible to those soldiers who are returning from deployments. We conduct webinars, accommodate special unit requests, and support command-directed evaluations. We also provide pamphlets with valuable information in order to get the word out.”
With awareness and support, good outcomes can be expected. “The majority of service members today have deployed, and when they return, they and their families may struggle with that transition; but eventually they get into a good solid place, build a stronger foundation and eventually move forward and become stronger than before,” said Feig.
Wildy and Feig agree that taking good care of yourself from a psychological perspective is key for everyone because at some point we all can use some help.
“There are resources available for soldiers in every status,” said Feig, “and we want to make sure that the soldier maintains a high-level of good self-care so that quality service members who want to stay in and serve for a long time are afforded that opportunity.”
For more information about Army Reserve Family Programs, visit www.arfp.org, or contact Fort Family at 1-844-ONE-FAMY or your command’s family programs director or coordinator.