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Pause the stigma; continue the support

Mental Health

Members of the 379th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron mental health team pose for a group photo on May 7, 2019 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. While away from family, there are several avenues to turn to for help or support. These outlets include co-workers, friends, chaplains, the Military and Family Life Consultant, and of course, the mental health clinic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley L. Gardner)

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --

Think about your worst day...pause…now think about your best day. The pause gives an opportunity to think about some of the best and worst times in life, often caused by stressors. It may also remind an individual that not every day is a good one.

Everyone has bad days and they often times impact a person's mental health. 

Mental health deals with the condition of an individual’s psychological and emotional well-being.

“[It’s] just like your physical health, said Capt. Scott Deatherage, 379th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron behavioral health optimization program chief. “It is a spectrum with healthy on the optimal side and unhealthy on the other.”

We are taught, being healthy means physically, socially, spiritually and lastly, mentally fit, the one many people push out of their line of sight. But ignoring any aspect of fitness, especially mental fitness can have a detrimental impacts to one’s life and military career. People find ways to become more physically fit, why not have the same attitude towards mental fitness?

“Individuals may have the idea that taking the time to visit mental health or seeking help will damage their career,” said Tech. Sgt. Sondra Pennington, 379th Expeditionary Medical Group mental health NCO in-charge. “If you need help, get it, you can’t take care of your family or the mission until you take care of yourself.”

The stigma that seeking help would damage a career has carried itself through our military year after year. For some, it’s believed that seeking help means they are weak.

“My thought is that there is a stigma against seeking help because seeking help requires that a person be vulnerable and that can be exceptionally hard to do,” said Deatherage. 

Today people are more aware of the importance of sorting through traumas, stressors, life changes, grieving and healthy coping. So more people are speaking out about self-care and reminding others just how important “YOU” are.

In 2016, the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report, highlighted there were 21.1 deaths per 100,000 active-duty service members and in 2018 there were 321 active duty suicides.

No matter how big or how small the situation or stressor may be, mental health is important. The numbers don’t lie. Leaders, supervisors, family and friends have the biggest impact, they are closest to those stressors. They have the ability to potentially help decrease the number of suicide deaths.

“There are people who have the ability to personally impact another’s life,” said Deatherage. “We as humans are vulnerable to first person accounts, we give credit to them and we trust them.”

While away from family, there are several avenues to turn to for help or support. These outlets include co-workers, friends, chaplains, the Military and Family Life Consultant, and of course, the mental health clinic.

Everyone has a role when it comes to accomplishing the mission, whether active duty, reserve, guard and coalition partners. We work together through the fight, and the goal is to make sure everyone is at their best.

While having support systems are important, there are several things an individual can do to be proactive in their own mental health.

1. Take care of yourself by engaging in healthy activities.

2. Develop healthy routines, especially for sleep.

3. "Plug in" to your deployment and don’t count the days!

4. Try to set personal goals during your deployment, i.e. fitness, professional development, reading, finances, etc.

5. Take advantage of activities on base.  

6. Develop a support network with other deployed members, in addition to family and friends back home. 

While you take a moment to pause and reflect on any situation you may be going through, remember the outlets and the support is there. Most importantly, you are strong enough to make it through the journey of being your best self.