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Take the First Step toward Better Mental Health

Navy Capt. Mike Colston, DCoE director

This article by Capt. Mike Colston, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, is reposted from the Military Health System in recognition of Mental Health Awareness month.

When a colleague has the flu or breaks a bone you naturally expect them to take time off from work to get medical attention and recover. It may be harder to detect a mental health concern in a colleague or even in ourselves. However, when a mental health concern impacts daily functioning it is imperative to get help. We should expect – and in fact encourage – someone with a mental health concern to seek medical attention with the same no-nonsense, practical attitude with which we would advise a colleague with a physical injury to go to the doctor. Because of perceived stigma surrounding mental health issues and treatment I know that many of our beneficiaries fail to get help or won’t talk openly about seeking mental health care.

You should know that seeking care can actually strengthen and protect your career by minimizing the impact of symptoms on your performance. Not seeking care worsens your health and increases the likelihood of an adverse event (e.g., anger, outbursts, driving under the influence, fights, being late to work) that could lead to loss of rank, personal relationships or leadership positions.

In recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month in the Military Health System (MHS), I want to call attention to the importance of mental wellness and resilience of our service members, retirees and their families. A top priority is making sure all beneficiaries know how to access the many valuable mental health resources available to them.

Another priority is to address the reasons why service members are hesitant to seek treatment. Some service members are concerned that admitting a mental health issue will negatively affect their career or their security clearance. The Defense Department has made great strides to remove barriers to mental health treatment. We have quadrupled the number of mental health professionals in our ranks. Mental health providers are embedded in line units and are also part of primary care teams in military treatment facilities. Department of Defense regulations protect a service member’s privacy. Providers only break confidentiality in extreme cases – for example when a service member is suicidal, homicidal or has some duty restriction that the command has to be informed of. If you receive treatment for deployment-related psychological health conditions and other conditions like grief, marital or family concerns, or being the victim of sexual assault, you can answer “no” on the security clearance questionnaire asking if you have ever “consulted with a health care professional.”

The Defense Department is committed to reducing the perceived stigma associated with undergoing mental health care. The Real Warriors Campaign is a public health awareness initiative designed to reduce barriers to care, encourage service members, veterans and military families to seek care for psychological health concerns, and promote psychological health. The campaign features stories of service members who reached out for psychological health care with successful outcomes – to include learning new coping skills, maintaining their security clearance and continuing to succeed in their military or civilian careers.

The MHS continues its focus on ensuring adequate treatment capacity and increasing access in the medical home with trusted primary care providers and behavioral health consultants. We provide prompt availability of specialized consultation and treatment for individuals with more complicated needs. Our goal is to ensure that service members get the appropriate care to achieve optimal health outcomes.

The MHS team wants you to know that you are not alone. If you, a unit member or family member are struggling with depression, symptoms of post-traumatic stress or another mental health concern help is available. Take the first step by reaching out to your chaplain, unit leadership, health care provider, family member or colleague to let them know you need assistance. For general information on mental health resources you can contact the DCoE Outreach Center at (866) 966-1020 or connect via live chat. The center is staffed 24/7 by health resource consultants who will provide confidential answers, tools, tips and resources. You will find additional information on our MHS website and from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

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This page was last updated on: May 1, 2017.