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Helping Agencies Q&A: Mental Health is a constant resource for Airmen

The Mental Health Clinic in the 72nd Medical Group works year-round to put out messages of resiliency, self-care and burnout prevention while also providing patients with an array of mental health assistance, including emergency mental health screenings, triage and crisis intervention, assessment interviews, psychological testing and treatment planning.

Maj. Jovanna Gaines, Mental Health’s director of Psychological Health, primarily works doing clinic outreach and provides Team Tinker members with a resource they can go to for options and treatment for issues regarding mental health.

Active duty military members can contact Mental Health weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 582-6603. Non-active duty beneficiaries can contact TRICARE and select the “mental health assistance” option at 1-800-700-8646.

What are the most important ways your agency serves Team Tinker?

“The most important message is, that years ago, it was thought that suicide prevention equaled a mental health program. Since that time, it has changed into a community issue. It’s a community initiative. We’re all supposed to be doing something to work toward maintaining good mental health and preventing suicides. We put out different messages to catch people in different ways and we’ve been working closely with our off-base partners [this includes] any agency that has anything to do with getting people connected to resources, getting people connected to each other, getting information on health care. We’ve been working closely with the Mayor’s Coalition to achieve that as well. 

During this month, quite a bit of time has been spent working on the Resiliency Tactical Pause. For our wing, the main thing was that they left it up to the units to figure out what they thought was best for the pause. They’ve (the units) found some really creative ways to get that message out of how important it is to connect and practice self-care.”

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

“When they come to Mental Health, there’s a triage that happens so we can figure out exactly what resource would be beneficial to the patient. Some people call Mental Health because they don’t know where to go or what their options are, so we’re triaging to find out what’s going on and what symptoms they’re having to figure out whether or not there may be more beneficial services like Family Advocacy or the Behavioral Health Optimization Program.

Some people hear the options and think Mental Health is the place to be, but giving people the options is important and gives them a sense of control over their lives. When you’re overwhelmed, you feel like you have no control and just having someone hear what you’re going through and sort out some of the options for you helps. It helps to know there is some kind of relief in progress.”

What are some misconceptions about Mental Health?

“Whether it’s military or civilian, people often think as soon as you call Mental Health we’re calling command to tell them and that is not correct. We maintain confidentiality and we remind commanders in briefings all the time that there are some members that will come to Mental Health that they’ll never be aware of because it hasn’t risen to the level of command needing to know. There are certain circumstances, and we advise members of that very early on when they’re filling out the paperwork, where if they’re a danger to themselves or other people, then we do have a duty to protect and warn. In those cases we’ll get command involved, but from our perspective, we’re looking at clinical treatment. When we do get command involved, we’re really asking command to support this member while they’re getting mental health treatment, that’s our primary focus.

Some people associate a member coming to Mental Health and then separating from the military and they think we’ve caused that. That’s the misconception that lingers. Sometimes people don’t know the other factors that might’ve led to that member needing to separate. It’s important for us to be upfront and honest and say that there are certain mental disorders that might not be compatible with the military, but that’s something that’s true in the civilian community as well.”

What’s your favorite thing about working in Mental Health?

“What I love most is when I see someone from the beginning and the difference at the very end when we can say, ‘You no longer need to see me.’ One of the things I tell people is that my job is very unique in that my goal is to work myself out of business. My job is to see a person who needs help and is in significant distress, and we work on coping skills, techniques, changes in ways of thinking and doing things to the point that they’re looking at the situation and filtering out what’s within their control. They’re looking at things from a completely different perspective and managing it in a different perspective. To see the change from day one to the last day is one of the things that is the most fulfilling for me. The change isn’t just affecting their life, but also their family as well as the work setting and mission.”

With Suicide Prevention Month coming to an end — what is some messaging that you hope sticks with people?

“One of the things that’s very important to keep in mind is that self-care isn’t just once a month or whenever the doctor reminds you. It’s on a daily basis that we have to remind ourselves, and nobody’s perfect, but we have to keep reminding ourselves. If I ask how long its been since you did something to care for yourself and you have to take a long pause to stop and think about it, then it’s too long.

The other piece is that when it comes to mental health, seek help and then give it all you got to get better. When you get better, all of those issues are in your rearview mirror.”