Mental health keeps Airmen ‘Fit to Fight’
By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 29, 2008
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When people think of staying healthy, most think of seeing a doctor or dentist and eating right; however, mental and emotional health is just as important to mission readiness.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with mental health, especially with visits to the mental health clinic.
"One of the big misconceptions is that only crazy people come to mental health," said Lt. Col. Anderson Rowan, 30th Medical Operations Squadron behavioral health flight commander.
In actuality, Colonel Rowan said, more than 60 percent of the people who came in to the mental health clinic of their own volition had no significant problems. According to research, the majority of people were only suffering from adjustment disorders - things such as general stress or occupational problems.
"It's to their advantage to come in early," he said. "What often happens, because of the stigma, is that people are afraid to come in, so they wait until it gets really bad."
By then, what started as small personal problems for an Airman has now affected their work and their home life. That's when those problems begin affecting careers.
"It's very rare for any kind of contact with command to happen or any kind of career negative effect be recommended by us," Colonel Rowan said. "More than 90% of the time when people come in on their own, we have no contact."
Also, in most circumstances the visit doesn't go into any personnel records. It will, however, be a part of a person's medical records, but the only time it will be reviewed is when someone applies for special duty or during a deployment screening. That means commanders can't just peak in a person's medical records to check for mental health visits, Colonel Rowan said.
While some people are worried about command involvement, others may be worried about what their friends or spouse thinks. This feeds into the stigma, especially when people wait too long to get help or actually do have severe problems.
"What happens is the people who do come in and do have such severe problems that career impact happens, it's very visible to everybody," said the colonel. "They get pulled out of their job, or they get separated from the service. They're rare situations, but they're very visible."
When the affected Airman's coworkers hear the story, the Airman may say mental health kicked them out for no reason. And even if they don't say anything, just the fact that a friend who visited mental health got kicked out of the Air Force may scare some people off. What needs to happen, Colonel Rowan said, is more people telling others about the good that came from their visit to mental health.
"Be open about it," he said. "It is nothing to be ashamed of."
Another way to break the stigma is by telling friends or family who need help to visit the mental health clinic.
"With their encouragement to seek help, people are more likely to do that," Colonel Rowan said. "It's a Wingman kind of thing."
If everyone helps make the subject of mental health less taboo, people can get assistance for their problems before it's too late.
The mental health clinic is for active duty members only. For more information on the mental health clinic or to make appointment, call 606-8217. For emergencies after duty hours, visit the emergency room.