New DAF Mental Health Overview clarifies mental health resources for Airmen, Guardians

  • Published
  • By Maristela Romero
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

Department of the Air Force mental health leaders published a new "Mental Health Overview" that outlines comprehensive resources for Airmen and Guardians seeking mental health support.

Unveiled on March 6 during the 2024 Mental Health Flight Leadership Conference, the overview is a collaborative effort from mental health leaders across the Air Force Medical Service. The overview guide’s purpose is to destigmatize the complexities of mental health, shed light on the processes for seeking both clinical and non-clinical mental health assistance, and provide recommendations on how to best use all care resources.

The “Mental Health Overview” project lead, Lt. Col. Eric Meyer, deputy director of psychological health and psychiatry consultant to the U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, said it was created out of the critical need for Airmen and Guardians to understand what mental health means and to assemble mental health resources under one tool.

“We have amazing clinicians doing their best and policies that afford quite a lot of flexibility. But there was no resource that explained the whole system,” Meyer said. “We wanted a user-friendly resource that could be used across the Department of the Air Force.”

Col. Christian Smith, Air Force director of psychological health, emphasized that leaders in the Air Force are continuing to change the culture surrounding mental health. One of these efforts is through releasing the “Mental Health Overview” to ensure Airmen and Guardians are equipped to recognize how mental health can impact their resilience and overall wellbeing.

“Mental Health can mean anything we do to take care for ourselves - from better sleep, hygiene, to better exercise, to better nutrition. On the other hand, it can imply a more severe pathologic illness,” Smith said. “Each part of that spectrum is somewhat unique and can benefit from different resources. The ‘Mental Health Overview’ lays that out. Our hope is that this will help clarify terminology and can provide common language and help for all Airmen and Guardians.”

With approachable language and tailored infographics, Meyer and his team of mental health experts leveraged educational best practices to help every Airman, Guardian, and their leaders and supervisors understand the Air Force’s approach to mental health.

“We used to think that stigma was the primary barrier to seeking mental health care, but that’s not true anymore. Today, it’s mostly confusion, which leads to an understandable fear of getting help,” Meyer said.

The overview guide contains seven brief chapters that debunk common mental health assumptions, differentiate clinical and non-clinical treatments, and provide guidance on the spectrum of mental health care available for different symptoms and levels of mental distress. The last three chapters delve into specific options for engaging with Mental Health clinics, the expectations for initiating clinical care and further guidance on remission and return to duty.

Meyer stressed that over the past decade, the majority of service members seeking mental help were actually looking for non-clinical resources, “It’s great that people are seeking care before things get out of control.”

Some patients do not necessarily need clinical mental health care but could benefit from non-clinical support from friends and family, command teams, chaplain teams, and from Military & Family Life Counseling.

“Most service members don’t know that” Meyer said.

Each part of that spectrum is somewhat unique and can benefit from different resources. The ‘Mental Health Overview’ lays that out.Col. Christian Smith

According to Meyer, most Airmen and Guardians who receive clinical mental health treatment achieve remission, and part of that success is from awareness of the various resources available to them. The overview guide ensures these resources are at their fingertips to bring them back to a healthy state of mind ready to engage with their duties.

If a service member’s treatment plan is observed to be ineffective, the guide provides assurance from mental health leaders that clinical personnel will prioritize their patient’s health and tailor care toward their specific needs.

In addition to publishing the “Mental Health Overview” digitally, physical copies and chapter handouts will be available at Mental Health clinics and across all Air Force bases.

“The Department of the Air Force recognizes that people are our most valuable asset and that taking care of them leads to more productivity and happiness,” Smith said. “A wide variety of efforts are underway to help our Airmen and Guardians find a life of wellbeing both on and off the job. This is one way we are getting after mental health and resiliency.”

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