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Options available to combat military stress

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airmen face problems ranging from issues at home to demanding work conditions on a daily basis. Fortunately, the Air Force takes care of its Airmen. Mental Health and the Military & Family Life Consultant Program are just two options available to help Airmen when the stress starts to become unbearable. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Airmen face problems ranging from issues at home to demanding work conditions on a daily basis. Fortunately, the Air Force takes care of its Airmen. Mental Health and the Military & Family Life Consultant Program are just two options available to help Airmen when the stress starts to become unbearable. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Heather Shaw)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Military life can be stressful, that's no secret. With constant deployments, physically-draining missions and long work hours, it can sometimes seem like too much.

Suicide rates across all military branches are on the rise, and it's important to know how to deal with the stressors that can lead to such a devastating end. Annually, Airmen are required to attend suicide awareness training; after hearing the same statistics and viewing the same slide-shows every year, some Airmen may begin to think that it will never affect them. Although the information may be the same, annual briefings remind Airmen of all the help that is available even if they are not currently suicidal.

What Airmen need to know is that it is normal to be stressed and to occasionally feel like everything is going wrong, said Sally Galligan, Chief of Vandenberg's Airman & Family Readiness Center.

Relationship problems are the No. 1 issue seen in those who are suicidal. Legal and financial problems are also among the most common issues, said Tech. Sgt. Tracey Drake, 30th Medical Group mental health noncommissioned officer in charge. 

"When someone is going through a hard time, particularly legal problems ... he tends to be socially isolated, and without some support of other people he could start to feel like no one cares and that he wouldn't be missed," Sergeant Drake said.

Getting help early when going through a stressful situation can help ensure that feelings of despair and thoughts of suicide don't start to invade an Airman's life.

"As soon as you realize that your coping skills are not in sync with your lifestyle, ask for help; the earlier the better," said Ms. Galligan.

So what help is available? Vandenberg offers several options. Most Airmen are familiar with the option if seeing a counselor at mental health. Counselors are available to coach Airmen through any issues they may be struggling with -- a program that is many times disregarded due to the stigma that receiving help from mental health will damage an Airman's career.

"Of all mental health visits, only three percent have had any real impact on someone's career," Sergeant Drake said.

Even knowing that, some people may still feel uncomfortable talking to a mental health counselor if they know people who work in the office. The good news is that there are more options. A&FRC has a program designed to help people who prefer something more confidential than mental health.

The Military & Family Life Consultant Program authorizes up to 12 visits for each issue that someone is struggling with. An attractive characteristic about the program is the confidentiality -- not even name's are recorded. The only exception is if a potential suicide is identified; the case is then referred to mental health.

The counselors are clinicians with a master's or a doctorate degree and at least three-years experience in a private sector, and, unlike mental health, the program is available to anyone connected to a servicemember.

A key to the program's success is that the counselors work on a six-week rotation and are all civilians.

"The idea is that MFLAC is designed to make people more comfortable with asking for help since the counselors are constantly rotating; unlike the mental health counselors, you will not run into them at the commissary," Ms. Galligan said.

For people who want something even more confidential or are too embarrassed to sit down with a counselor, there is another option -- Military One Source, a DoD- provided consultation program. The program offers telephonic and online chat consultations 24/7, making it convenient for a person who can't get out of the office to sit down with a counselor.

Programs like these are vital to helping Airmen cope and remain mission ready. The programs can also ensure that Airmen know how to handle deployment stress and prepare properly for physically-draining missions. Just as Airmen train year-round to remain physically fit to fight, they must also remain emotionally trained.