MAY 13, 2016, ASAN, Guam (NNS) – When Sailors come to work tired, with a fever, sneezing, coughing or otherwise visibly miserable, it’s likely a shipmate will catch on to the fact they’re ill and suggest a trip to medical.
But how often have we heard someone being told to “suck it up” when it comes to dealing with stress at work or home, instead of getting professional help to sort out the root of the problem? We embrace medical care for physical ailments, but often reject help in the face of equally debilitating mental ailments.
“We seem to stigmatize people getting help for mental health issues but we have zero concern for someone who goes to see the doctor because they have the flu,” said Cmdr. Timothy Moore, Joint Region Marianas force chaplain. “We need to reverse our thinking because people do have emotional and mental challenges from time to time.”
This stigma has been identified as a major barrier for people seeking mental health care, so as we observe Mental Health Month in May, contribute to the conversation. Learn about potential signs of mental illness, don’t take part in reinforcing the stigma and learn to watch out for your shipmates. This issue affects a lot of us.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 17 percent of the adult population in the U.S. is in optimal mental health condition. Mental Health America, the organization leading Mental Health Month for more than 40 years, states one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year and 50 percent of American adults will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their lifetime.
It’s no secret there are plenty of things that cause stress to service members as they balance obligations to the country and obligations to family. Although a little stress can help Sailors become more resilient when put in stressful situations later, it’s something that needs to be properly managed.
Many of the same factors that play into mission readiness when it comes to physical health–such as a proper diet, regular exercise and enough sleep–apply to mental health as well. Just like with physical health, denying yourself these things can cause health problems. When these preventative measures aren’t enough, people start displaying signs of stress.
“Things that are normally not that big of a deal seem like a much bigger deal because we are emotionally challenged at the time,” Moore said. “Things that normally wouldn’t tick someone off seem to do so. When we start recognizing some of those signs in our shipmates it’s important to ask if they’re OK.”
Moore added it’s better to ask someone how they’re doing and find out nothing is wrong than to not ask and leave them in need of help.
Lt. Kyle Bandermann, a psychologist at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam agreed, saying, “it never hurts to ask too much.”
There are many resources available for service members and their families to take advantage of and by doing so while a problem is small, negative career impacts can be avoided. People can visit their command chaplain, take anger management courses, counseling through the Fleet and Family Support Center, see the mental health team at their nearest naval hospital and utilize Military One Source to be referred to a counselor.
Moore said it’s important for people to be honest about which resource works best for them, citing the example that one person may need the help of a chaplain while another may need help from a psychologist. If a resource cannot help in the way that someone needs, they will refer that person to someone who can. Moore said the people working at these resources don’t take it personally if they’re not the best option for an individual, but rather, everyone is focusing on getting someone the help they need, regardless of which resource ends up providing that help.
“Please don’t discount the chaplain or any of these other resources,” Moore said. “The important thing is to get help.”