Mental Health is Real Health: Leveraging Resilience Resources is Paramount to Readiness

  • Published
  • By Capt. Zachary Gerdes
  • Air University Public Affairs

The term “mental health” is a strange one. Too often we equate “mental health” with problems, symptoms, or crises. Yet, mental health is just that – a form of health. The brain is part of the body. We take pride as military members in honing physical fitness, and the same should be true of the command center of that body (the brain).

In so many domains of life, we take pride in knowing what we need and where to get it. Doing some home improvement DIY? Sometimes the clerk at your local hardware store is the right resource to start with. Taking a class? The instructor is probably a helpful expert to lean into. If you needed a tooth pulled, well, TikTok or YouTube are probably not the most effective place to start for solving that issue.  

But there is a double standard around mental health when it comes down to taking pride in utilizing the tools and resources at our disposal. I could just give therapy clients 10 years’ worth of psychology textbooks so they can take more pride in being self-reliant with mental health practices, but it is much more efficient to go to the right place for the right expertise. That is where knowing who to go to for what purpose is so important to hone our psychological strength.  

In the military, we are so lucky to have the resources that we do at our disposal for this very purpose. Military OneSource as well as Military Family Life Counseling and Airmen and Family Readiness help us navigate stressful life periods. We have chaplains always on hand for spiritual well-being. Primary Care Behavioral Health can book appointments directly through the regular appointment line – often getting people in much sooner than the traditional mental health clinic. In addition, Guard and Reserve members can also access the Director of Psychological Health (DPH) within their unit. And, of course, we are here in the mental health clinic as well. Air Force bases are an amazing one-stop shop for a plethora of mental health resources.

Unfortunately, mental health issues continue to be one of the most significant factors impacting readiness across the force. Suicide has taken more lives than war operations since 9/11 and demand for mental health services has increased by over 300% in recent years. Yet, the supply of mental health providers has not matched the increased need.

In response, we have a base-wide opportunity to lean into all the services at our disposal. The mental health clinic is just one tool in a large box of resilience resources across base. We must rely on each other within units and really check in with how those on either side are faring. Good sleep, diet, and exercise can boost many of the neurotransmitters that antidepressant medications target. If the brain is part of the body, we need to balance holistic health. And we must lean into the array of experts and resources available just a phone call or few steps away. In the mental health clinic, we are always striving to come up with creative ways to improve care and increase access to our services in spite of the supply and demand challenges. For more information or if we can be of assistance, give us a call at 334-953-5430.