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Helping Agencies: Mental health keeps Airmen mission-ready

(Editor’s note: This article is an installment in a Tinker Take Off series focused on highlighting the work of Tinker Helping Agencies.)


The Mental Health Clinic in the 72nd Medical Group provides patients with an array of mental health assistance including emergency mental health screenings, triage and crisis intervention, assessment interviews, psychological testing and treatment planning.

As director of psychological health for the Mental Health Clinic, Maj. Jovanna Gaines primarily works doing clinic outreach and has been in her position at Tinker Air Force Base for about a year. 


What are the most important ways your agency serves Tinker?

“We serve Team Tinker in so many different facets because we’re part of the community and looking at any issues going on within the base. If we’re not providing the direct care then we’re providing referrals and resources. Mental health issues affect readiness so our goal is to help them sort through whatever issues are impacting them from a mental health perspective so they can be mission ready to do the job that they signed up to do. It really is an important piece of readiness and sometimes people don’t realize how important it is. When a person’s distracted by stress issues, adjustment issues, family issues, substance abuse issues or trauma issues, that can detract from the mission.”


When an individual reaches out to the Mental Health Clinic what can they expect?

“When they reach out, usually they’re going to get someone at the front desk and they’re going to do a basic triage to find out what their needs are so they can get them to the right resources. They’re also triaging for urgency so if someone’s suicidal for example, of course that issue is going to need to be dealt with immediately. There’s also something called the BHOP (Behavioral Health Optimization) program. We have a psychologist that’s housed within the Family Health section of the Medical Group so they can actually start from that arena if they’re a little inhibited about coming straight to Mental Health. It’s very brief counseling on issues like low level depression, anxiety, stress, sleep issues and things like that. If they need more after that, they can discuss coming into Mental Health for treatment.”


What are some misconceptions about your agency?

“The Mental Health stigma exists and the funny thing about that is even though the stigma exists, we are still a very busy clinic because the needs exist. We want to reach out to people who are inhibited from reaching out for help because they’re concerned that it might affect their career or they’re concerned that they’ll get kicked out if they admit that they’re struggling with anxiety, depression or even post-traumatic stress disorder. We try to clear that up so members understand that of course it’s important for a member to be mission focused, but we also recognize that people go through struggles and difficulties and need help.

Our main message is to seek help, give everything you’ve got to get better within treatment and then get better because when you get better you can get back to the mission. A lot of times people will delay seeking treatment and then the situation only gets worse. We always encourage seeking help early. Sometimes people are embarrassed about the issues that they’re going through, but we try to normalize and help them understand that everybody is going through something and sometimes you need help. There’s no one person immune to having to deal with a mental health issue at some point in their life. I think almost everyone can actually identify someone in their life who’s struggling with mental health issues. It’s common, and when people start looking at it from that perspective we can normalize it from every single level. We see people all the time going through issues and when they go through these issues we’re not calling command and telling them. We’re going to deal with that member on a voluntary basis and get them care. There are times we have to reach out to command if a member is suicidal, a threat to themselves or a threat to someone else. Even in those situations, we’re working with command to support the member through the hospitalization so the member can get better, get the care they need and get back to the mission.”


June is PTSD Awareness Month — tell me about the struggles people have in seeking help for that particular issue.

“PTSD is definitely a well known diagnosis and it is becoming more and more socially acceptable. They have apps and so forth to help people manage some of the symptoms that they’re dealing with, such as an app called PTSD Coach that gives you coping mechanisms to manage what you’re going through. PTSD is becoming more understood in the community. With all the frequent deployments, PTSD could be an issue that Mental Health is seeing more often than years ago. Sometimes people see traumatic issues and when they’re going through symptoms specifically related to PTSD and they’re struggling because they’re having reminders, difficulty sleeping, difficulty coping and things like that. We’re here to provide care and normalize what they’re going through.”