MAY 15, 2017, FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) – Mental health disorders are relatively common within civilian and military communities, but with early treatment, most mental health disorders can be effectively treated, and patients can return to mental wellness.
While invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are often associated with military service, they are not the most common mental health problems Airmen face. Far more common are depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders and other issues that, despite getting less attention, have a serious effect on the health of Airmen.
“Mental health problems left unaddressed can be very disruptive to our lives,” said Col. Steven Pflanz, the director of psychological health at the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “They affect our quality of life day-to-day, and as they get worse, can impact our relationships with significant others, children, friends and work. That’s a significant cost.”
There is good news about treating these conditions, according to Pflanz.
“The evidence is that we’re actually very effective at treating mental health problems, across the gamut of conditions. If you come into the clinic, you can expect that your problem will get identified, diagnosed and treated, and there’s a very good chance that you will be healed.”
Many Airmen cite concerns about their career as reasons why they avoid seeking mental health care. But Pflanz challenged the logic behind this way of thinking.
“Airmen notice the small number of people who are separated from the military through a medical evaluation board,” said Pflanz. “People don’t see the many people who get treated at our mental health clinics successfully returned to duty. Patients who go to our clinics and get better don’t often go back to their unit, raise their hand and talk about it.”
Airmen who avoid seeking treatment may actually be jeopardizing their health and their career by staying silent.
“Untreated mental health problems are a far bigger risk to most careers than seeking treatment,” said Pflanz. “If you have depression and don’t get treated, it may get so severe that you can’t function. Like with any medical problem, the longer you wait to deal with it, the harder it is to fix.”
Taking care of mental health is just as important as physical health. Like physical health, mental well-being can wear down over time if you don’t attend to emotional needs.
“To do well on your PT test, you have to work out regularly,” said Pflanz. “To do well emotionally, you have to take care of yourself regularly. Find time for the things that are important, that bring meaning to your life, like time with family, leisure activities, hobbies, volunteering and rewarding work activities.”
Air Force mental health providers are trained in the latest clinical practice guidelines developed by the Defense Department and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These methods incorporate the latest science into evidence-based treatments. Airmen who go to Air Force mental health clinics can be confident that the treatment is the best medical science has to offer.
“One alternative is suffering, the other is the chance of getting better,” said Pflanz. “I encourage Airmen to come in.”
By Peter Holstein, Surgeon General Public Affairs