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Increasing visibility for invisible wounds

The Center for Disease Control reports that around 2.5 million people experience a traumatic brain injury during a given year and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than 8 million adults experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

Within the 72nd Medical Group on Tinker Air Force Base, resources and services for these invisible wounds are readily available. Along with the Mental Health Clinic, the 72nd Medical Group offers resources in the form of the Behavioral Health Optimization Program and the Disaster Mental Health program.

The Disaster Mental Health program specializes in addressing traumatic events such as deaths within a unit that might leave Airmen with trauma or grief, as well as other situations that can impact Airmen’s mental health and wellbeing. They help Airmen recognize normal symptoms and when they should seek help. The need for help might not be immediate, therefore this information may help months later.

“Sometimes grief comes in many different ways, so we address that,” said Capt. Andrea Theye, Disaster Mental Health Team chief and BHOP Element chief, 72nd Medical Group. “We also try to emphasize the concept of wingmanship and being there for each other. As a health provider, we can’t be there all the time; but, wingmen are and can be.”

Theye said that the BHOP program provides Airmen with a holistic approach to addressing Airmen’s health by dealing with factors such as life stressors, sleep and other behaviors that might become more complicated if left untreated. 

Maj. Jovanna Gaines, director of Psychological Health, 72nd Medical Operations Squadron, said anyone suffering through a traumatic brain injury should not be afraid to seek help.

“Seeking help is a sign of strength,” Gaines said. “Seek help and give it all you have to get better. Don’t struggle alone because there is help, and we can provide the resources you need to get help.”

Though the Mental Health clinic only serves active duty personnel, Gaines said they don’t turn anyone away. They can provide civilians or contractors on base with resources and help get them connected and find the help they seek.

Gaines also said it is important for Airmen to note changes in their social, personal or occupational interactions that might help them realize that they need to seek help. Changes in sleep patterns, mood and more can indicate the need to seek a mental health evaluation.

“Sometimes, the treatment is brief and requires modifications in a person’s lifestyle or coping strategies,” Gaines said. “In other situations, a person may benefit from medication management. Each person is different. There is not a one size fits all approach to mental health. There are also different levels to accessing help.”

Non-medical counseling is available for Airmen through MilitaryOne Source, Military Family Life Counselors, the Chaplain and the Employee Assistance Program, with Tricare available for dependents.

Along with resources on Tinker, there is Oklahoma 2-1-1, which connects people statewide with a range of resources for things such as mental health counseling, support groups, legal assistance, employment assistance, schools, transportation, community and disaster services, financial assistance and 24-hour crisis helplines. Dial 2-1-1 for information, text “211OK” to 898211 or visit their website www.211oklahoma.org.  

For Airmen and veterans in crisis, there is the 24/7 Veteran’s Crisis Hotline at 1-877-273-8255 and the Psychological Health Resource Center available, also available 24/7 at 1-866-966-1020.

Even those not suffering from invisible wounds play a critical role in caring for their fellow Airmen. Gaines said it is important to know the symptoms, listen and be respectful to Airmen when they need a friend or reach out for help, and encourage those in need to seek care.

“Let them know it is okay to not be okay, and to ask for help,” Gaines said.