Good mental health critical to readiness

Mental health readiness

Maintaining your mental health is critical to readiness. People suffering from depressive disorders can experience slowed physical reactions, impaired judgment and indecision, all of which can risk the mission. Treatment for mental health issues can show real improvement in as little as four weeks. If you, or someone you know, may be dealing with depression, get treatment now. (Air Force Graphic)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Mental health is a critical part of every Airman’s medical readiness. Although many service members worry that seeking mental health care will negatively effect their career, the opposite is usually true. With early identification and the right treatment by a medical professional, most mental health issues get better quickly without any negative career impact.

Unfortunately the reverse is also true, says Maj. Joel Foster, a psychologist and chief of deployment mental health for the Air Force Medical Service. Left untreated, even relatively minor mental health issues can become more serious, evolving into depression or suicidal thoughts and actions. These present serious risks for an Airman and an Air Force career.

“It’s absolutely true that having an impaired mental state can negatively affect an Airmen’s ability to complete their mission,” said Foster. “People suffering from depression can experience symptoms like difficulty sleeping, fatigue, indecisiveness or poor decision making, and inability to focus. It’s easy to see how these symptoms can put an Air Force career at risk.”

Numbers bear this out. Complications from mental health issues are one of the most common reasons for medical evacuation of Airmen from theater.

“Most, if not all jobs in a combat zone require high cognitive function,” said Capt. Jordan Fields, an Air Force clinical psychologist at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. “Someone in a deployed environment can’t afford to be distracted by depressive thoughts. This can decrease their reaction time, affect their ability to make decisions, and diminish their ability to prioritize things.”

Deployed environments are often stressful and Airmen are isolated from their usual support network. Beginning deployment with even a low or moderate level of depression is a recipe for possible problems, says Fields.

“We always try to tackle mental health issues before deployment. A real challenge for us as mental health providers is getting patients to reach out to us before problems get so severe as to affect an Airman’s readiness.”

The good news is that treatment for mental health issues is far more effective than most people realize. Once a patient is in treatment, they are very likely to see real improvement within four visits to a mental health professional.

“People respond quite quickly to evidence-based treatments for depression. Weekly treatments usually lead to major improvement within a month,” said Fields. “It’s critical to get people in, start to change behaviors and give them some hope. Even patients with severe depression can experience significant relief quickly, and get back to being mission-fit.”

Depression pulls people away from family and friends, valued activities, and other engagements. Treatment for depression focuses on rebuilding those connections. Simple things like renewing social activities, basic self-care activities, eating well, exercise, and sleep are critical parts of therapy. These deceptively simple actions can reverse the downward spiral of depression.

“For many Airmen, the most challenging part of treatment is just coming through the door to begin,” said Fields. “Not everyone who feels sad is depressed, and sadness is a common and even natural symptom of other traumatic events. For anyone struggling with depression, or other mental health issues, that first step to get treatment is the most important one they take.”

Recent Air Force research shows that Airmen who seek earlier help for depression see better outcomes from therapy and fewer negative outcomes to their careers. Self-referral for mental health care can be very challenging, but more education will help break down some of those barriers.

“Every patient is different, but one constant we see is that depression usually doesn’t get better on its own,” said Foster. “Many depressive symptoms are self-perpetuating. If you feel alone, you are likely to isolate yourself. Social isolation keeps building. Patients shouldn’t worry that something bad might happen if they seek help. They should worry about what might happen if they don’t.”

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.