CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – Each May, the United States recognizes the importance of mental health care and awareness during Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, the Kosovo Force Regional Command Behavioral Health Team discussed the importance of recognizing mental health, dedicating a month to awareness, and what all soldiers can do to support mental health efforts. behavioral health across the military.
The RC-East Behavioral Health Team is a two-soldier team assigned to Task Force Medical, 547th Medical Company (Area Support), 62nd Medical Brigade. Capt. SarahLouise Perez, the unit behavioral health officer, and Spc. Kimberly Caro, Behavioral Health Technician, is passionate about the impact of Mental Health Awareness Month, first recognized in 1949, and contributing to understanding, openness, treatment and prevention mental health issues.
“Mental Health Awareness Month is something very important because I think a lot of times, especially in the military, there’s a stigma,” Perez said. “It is important to recognize that mental health is not the same as mental illness. If you have poor mental health, it could lead to mental illness, but mental health isn’t necessarily something negative to look at.
Perez’s duties as the Brigade Behavioral Health Officer are to act as an advisor to all commanders on the overall mental health of their soldiers through the analysis of trends observed among units while providing advice. on ways to mitigate potential problems. US Army behavioral health officers can be either clinical psychologists or clinical social workers. As a clinical social worker, Perez is able to provide personalized counseling to soldiers throughout her organization.
According to Perez, the month-long observance is an opportunity for organizations, such as the military, to dedicate time and resources to recognizing the stigma behind seeking mental health support and finding ways to fight stigma by supporting all people as they pursue behavioral health care. .
“You have to be of sound mind to be an exemplary soldier, airman, sailor or mariner,” she said. “I could be the strongest person in the world, but if my mind isn’t good, I won’t be able to do my mission well. The importance we place on physicality in the military must translate into its psychological aspects.
Caro, the unit’s behavioral health NCO, also reflected on the importance of organizations prioritizing mental health just as much as physical health.
She shared, “I think there’s a lot of negative stigma that comes with behavioral health. People are scared or intimidated to come in, but really, it’s like anything else. If your leg hurts, you go see a physiotherapist; If your tooth hurts, you go see a dentist. I think we need to raise more awareness about the importance of mental health and the importance of having a good (behavioral health) team.
As a Behavioral Health NCO, Caro supports the behavioral health team and unit by performing initial assessments of soldiers and working with Perez to determine potential follow-up care. While deployed, she leads the behavioral health team’s training efforts on different coping skills for soldiers. She thinks it’s essential for soldiers to find healthy coping skills, like exercising, keeping a journal, joining sports teams or finding other soldiers with similar interests, to support mental health. when separated from their loved ones.
The military health system‘s theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month was “Burnout.” Burnout is the feeling of exhaustion caused by excessive or prolonged emotional, physical or mental stress. For deployed soldiers, the feeling of burnout can be extremely prevalent due to the demanding tasks and work to be done while being separated from one’s support system.
The behavioral health team at RC-E explained how feeling burnout can critically impact a unit.
“It can be easy to have soldiers who feel overwhelmed with work while they are (deployed) managing our lives at home,” Caro said. “But it is important to take a step back. Take a deep breath and try to break things down as best you can; it doesn’t all have to be done at once.
Perez echoed the same sentiments, adding that it’s common to feel this kind of stress, but it’s important to acknowledge these feelings, not let them become overwhelming and never be ashamed to ask for help. assistance.
Seeking behavioral health help can be scary for soldiers. Yet it is essential that a unit’s leadership normalizes promoting mental health and seeking support when needed.
“It’s normal,” Perez explained. “We all have problems and because we are soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors, we are expected to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the civilian population; but at the same time, we are only human and we experience things. We are not superhuman.