May is Mental Health Month and it is important that we take a moment to look around and ensure that we have the appropriate mechanisms in place to take care of our people. As we continue to provide quality care for our patients and their families around the world, we must recognize that even the best of us will experience stress while doing our jobs – whether it is in a clinic, on the streets of Port- au-Prince, or on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.
We all go through stressful times. In small doses, stress may be beneficial for you when it gives you a burst of energy when you need it, but a great deal of stress can take its toll on your body. Preserving the psychological health of service members and their families is one of the great challenges we face today. We see many identifiable stressors ranging from daily hassles to extreme trauma in the course of day to day routines. Just as we prepare our bodies for physical strength through exercise, we can also prepare our minds for emotional stress by building psychological resilience. It is important to recognize signs and symptoms of stress and have the means to address them.
While we act with a sense of urgency to bolster resiliency among our Sailors and Marines, we must also ensure we watch for the signs of occupational stress on our caregivers. They are subject to the same psychological demands of exposure to trauma, loss, fatigue, and inner conflict. This is why our Caregiver Occupational Stress Control programs are so important to building and sustaining the resiliency of our providers.
Our Naval Center For Combat & Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC) is one way we’re helping to improve the psychological health of Navy and Marine Corps forces by helping to build and promote resilience; provide service members, combat veterans and their families with educational programs to effectively address combat, operational and daily stress; reduce stigma in seeking mental-health treatments; and facilitate evidence-based research in psychological health, especially in relation to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). NCCOSC is developing tools that help leaders and service members respond to signs and symptoms of stress whenever they see them.
Cognizant that our warfighters currently serving in OEF/OIF work in areas prone to high stress levels, we’ve sent mental health specialists to work in operational environments and forward deployed units to provide services where and when they are needed most. Navy Medicine in support of the Marine Corps is sending more mental health teams to the front lines with the goal of better treating an emotionally strained force. Operational Stress Control and Readiness teams - known as OSCAR - will soon be expanded to include the battalion level. This will put mental health support services much closer to combat troops. A Mobile Care Team of Navy Medicine mental health professionals is currently deployed to Afghanistan conducting mental health surveillance, command leadership consultation, and coordination of mental health care for Sailors throughout the AOR.
Equally important is reducing the stigma surrounding psychological health and operational stress concerns which can be a significant barrier to seeking mental health services. Programs such as Navy Operational Stress Control, Marine Corps Combat Operational Stress Control, FOCUS - Families Overcoming Under Stress, Caregiver Occupational Stress Control - and our suicide prevention programs are in place and maturing to provide support to personnel and their families. These programs are proactively reaching out to our warfighters so they know that there are mental health resources available, and so they feel more comfortable in seeking out those services.
The physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and fitness of each individual is critical to maintaining an effective fighting force. We have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the medical readiness of our warfighters and that our medical forces are prepared, trained and deployed with the right capabilities and the right support they need.
No matter where you are serving today, I continue to be impressed by your brilliant service. Be safe, be smart and take care of one another.