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Airmen can take charge of their mental fitness

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Some Airmen might think that seeking help to improve their mental health will automatically lead to a discharge, but this often not the case, mental health experts said.

"If someone has a physical injury, they go to the doctor to get better," said Capt. Frances Robbins, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and Suicide Prevention program manager here.
"This is where you visit to deal with emotional struggles and mental health."

Like any aspect of readiness, mental health professionals make their diagnoses on a case-by-case basis.

"The stigma comes from when people don't get help," said Capt. Alicia Dudley, a clinical social worker at the Academy's Family Advocacy office. "It starts to affect their job performance and then they come to mental health with a lot of baggage. If you come in, get help, and get better, it probably won't affect your career."

Although military members do not have full confidentiality, Air Force mental health professionals will never trick or embarrass anyone.

"If what I am told is something impactful to the mission, then I have a duty to report," said Robbins. "Cases of child abuse, risk to self and risk to others also need to be reported."

However, before a client even begins speaking, he or she is told what can and cannot be disclosed.

"We want people to feel comfortable here and have a safe place to vent," Robbins said. "We don't want anyone to be surprised."

Most often, mental health professionals will not inform an airman's change of command unless there is a potential impact to the mission or the member provides written permission.

"Some people have no problem with their first sergeant knowing everything we talk about, while others don't want anyone even knowing they were here," Robbins said. "Someone needing to come to the office during work hours doesn't have to give any other details besides it being for a scheduled doctor's appointment."

In the case of a traumatic event, the Traumatic Response Team will offer interventions, such as onsite counseling. In addition, Tricare beneficiaries are eligible for four private counseling sessions (without any documentation) in relation to the traumatic event.

"Those families displaced this summer due to the Waldo Canyon fires were offered such services," Robbins said.

The Mental Health department here offers individual therapy, medication management and also houses Family Advocacy and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program. It services active-duty service members, their family members and retirees enrolled at the Academy.

Mental Health, a resource often only mentioned when someone is struggling, is a great tool for anyone looking for additional proactive support. Someone specially trained in their field and with a lot of experience will be willing to help. There is always a mental health provider on call, Dudley said.

Mental fitness is demonstrated in part by good character, wise choices or actions, and helping fellow airmen.

"If something is really bothering someone they should come in and speak with us," Robbins said. "It may, if nothing else, give that person some peace of mind."

Additionally, the Family Advocacy side of mental health also offers marital therapy, parenting programs, and the New Parent Support Program, which includes a nurse who will make home visits to educate parents during pregnancy, as well as provide support after the baby is born.

Stress Management and other courses are also available at the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

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