JUNE 19, 2017, SOUTHWEST ASIA – It can start with a simple conversation. “How are you?” “Yeah, I bet you see some crazy stuff at your job.” “That must have been really hard for you to process.” What at first seems like a run-of-the-mill conversation, stemming from a friendly visit, is more than meets the eye. It is a check-in. It is non-invasive, and it is from a friendly face that is just there to learn more about what Airmen do, and ask how they were. It’s the art of human engagement, and it is practiced by the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group mental health staff.
Prevention…at your doorstep
The 386th EMDG mental health clinic consists of two staff members: Capt. Bradley Ervin, the mental health clinic officer in charge, and Staff Sgt. Jessica Moore, a mental health technician. Realizing the operations tempo of the deployed environment here, Ervin and Moore proactively conduct unit visits for preventative care and mental health education.
“When we get out to the units, we are checking in on the members and meeting them in an area that they’re more comfortable in,” said Moore.
These visits allow service members to ask questions about mental health, in an off-the-record setting. This informal situation allows the mental health team to contradict common stereotypes about mental health while providing candid stress management methods and other related tools to help members mitigate the need for more formal treatment. Recently, Moore spent a few hours visiting the firefighters of the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at fire station two.
“We seek out populations we consider to be high-risk, which are individuals who are more likely to be exposed to trauma in their field of work, such as security forces, firefighters, and other first responders,” said Moore.
While her most recent visits to the fire department and military working dog kennel were informal, unit visits typically have a mental health curriculum attached to them. Ervin and Moore provide mental health education on a variety of topics including sleep habits, stress management, anger management, relationship problems, anxiety, and depression.
“These visits make it easier if they do come in seeking treatment, because we have a better understanding of what they’re dealing with, and we have built a rapport with these individuals during unit visits,” said Moore.
Fighting the Stigma
The most prevalent challenge faced by Ervin and Moore isn’t teaching sleep habits to aircrew members who frequently change shifts. It’s also not helping people deal with family separation. Most often, the duo’s greatest enemy is the stigma that seeking mental health care will have lasting negative repercussions on an Airman’s career.
“I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said ‘going to mental health will ruin my career, so that’s why I’ve never gone’,” said Moore. “The overwhelming majority of individuals who seek out mental health and get treatment have no lasting career impact.”
The common and false stigma with mental health is that treatment will cause a member to lose their security clearance, prevent certain training, stop you from deploying or changing station, or even end a career, according to Ervin.
“For most situations, this is simply not true. Mental health treatment typically has no more career impact than any other medical treatment,” said Ervin.
Due to this stigma, and the hesitation it causes, there are many service members who go without treatment and exacerbate their conditions.
“If you need help, seek it. We can work through problems when they initially happen much easier than when it reaches a crisis situation,” said Ervin. “You do not have to suffer through the emotional pain, suffering, and stress.”
A range of services
The mental health clinic offers group counseling, crisis intervention, and classes on stress management and occupational stress, anger management, tobacco cessation, sleep habits and relationships. Along with outreach, they also offer unit briefings and leadership consultation with first sergeants and commanders on mental health, as well as provide command directed evaluations as needed.
“The primary mission for mental health is to maintain and improve the cognitive and emotional functioning of our troops, to keep them performing their jobs and keep the mission going forward,” said Ervin.
Dedicated to serve
The mental health team here is experienced and dedicated to helping service members. After college volunteer experiences in child abuse prevention, Ervin was inspired to change his major and pursue a career as a mental health provider. He currently has more than 17 years of combined civilian and military experience and a deep sense of passion in his mission of helping service members.
“I joined the military to work with service members because anyone who is willing to serve in the military and put the greater good of society and protection of others above themselves is something I want to be a part of,” said Ervin.
Moore had a slightly different path. After enlisting without a guaranteed Air Force specialty, she was selected to be a mental health technician. It didn’t take long for her to appreciate the positive effect she could have on others.
“Everything happens for a reason. It really wound up being a good fit because as soon as I got into the field I realized the impact I could have on helping people as a caregiver,” said Moore. “I love what I do. I help people.”
By Master Sgt. Eric M. Sharman, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs / Published June 19, 2017