SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- --
Deep seated in the military mindset is a stigma – a major misconception – that seeking mental health services can have an automatic detrimental effect on one’s career.
Concerns of losing security clearance or being discriminated against by base leadership were troubling Capt. Dustin Crews, 1st Space Operations Squadron, when he contacted mental health services on base after difficulties during weapons training school.
“I was worried about it; I called my father, a retired Air Force senior NCO, and told him about seeking mental health and he told me not to go as they will take my clearance,” said Crews. “When I went there, during the process I felt understood, not judged or branded.”
Crews said his fears were alleviated by the overwhelming support of wing leadership as well as the exceptional service of mental health services, which put in perspective problems he had with anxiety and attention throughout his life; this revelation provided clarity in his personal and professional life, and thanks to the free military healthcare and the evaluated diagnosis of mental health services, he was able to receive aid through medication and cognitive behavioral therapy without cost and without losing his clearance or other restrictions.
“They gave me a new perspective and helped me help myself,” said Crews. “In retrospect, the symptoms made perfect sense to me. Looking back, I consider going to mental health as a turning point for my life. While I know treatment is not a one size fits all kind of deal, in my opinion going to mental health is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”
For something as personal as seeking mental health services, rank is rendered indifferent. At times, the leadership which many Airmen fear reprisal from have themselves seen mental health services.
Lt. Col. Joshua Brooks, 3rd Space Operations Squadron commander, spoke during the “Shocking truth of seeking help: I went to mental health” class for Wingman Day last week about his experiences going to see mental health, and voiced his support for all Schriever Airmen – whether within or outside his command – to do the same if they feel it will help them in their lives.
“Seeking mental health is a sign you are willing to improve yourself; as a commander I approve of this,” Brooks said. “As Josh Brooks, I pursued these services because I wanted to do the best I could for me and my family; to be the best father and husband I could be. I wanted to use these resources to face my problems head-on.”
Brooks spoke out against the stigma of mental health during the class, which provided a forum for Airmen throughout Schriever to congregate and discuss concerns and provide input regarding mental health.
“In the military people tend to be fiercely self-sufficient, fiercely independent,” he said. “You may feel you are the only one who has or experienced problems, however, this is not the case. It’s about taking care of yourself and being able to function, because if you are able to function and maintain the foundation of self, it will only serve to benefit you and the people around you.”
The antiquated notion against seeking mental health services is not unique to military life, as Freudian cartoons and popular cable shows such as “The Sopranos” attest to by normalizing or showing characters hesitant to seeking treatment. However, for service members, the idea that seeing a “shrink” is a career death sentence which will automatically compromise a security clearance is a relevant worry, especially for Schriever Airmen.
“Most of us are limited on what we think mental health is like,” said Maj. Robert Seals, Schriever mental health provider. “We see how it is on television or the movies, and that’s what we think it is. Many may think it’s just a singular experience; in reality it is as varied as individual personalities.”
Dr. Seals said it is extremely rare for any punitive measures to be taken as a result of going to mental health.
“It’s not impossible,” said Seals. “We are bound by an oath of confidentiality. It is only broken by threat to self or others, and leadership will be made aware if the mission is impacted. What’s important is that merely coming to mental health is not an instant red flag.
“If we do decide to diagnose an individual, it is to help. It is not instantaneous, it is a process which involves consultation and evaluation. If we implement measures, such as a “no deploy” profile, it is usually completely in line with what the patient wants, because we have decided together it is in their best interests in regard to their treatment.”
Dr. Seals said even if there is a determination preventive measures such as duty limiting profiles need to be undertaken and leadership has to be notified, the person seeking mental health will always be made aware by the mental health professional of their plans to take these precautions.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time the patient and I are on the same page,” he said. “This is because I am working with what they tell me. We work together to determine the path of treatment. There’s never a surprise.”
Crews said the importance of dispelling the myth of the negativities of seeking mental health cannot be understated, and maintaining an informed atmosphere not only helps all Airmen, it can also save lives.
“We have brilliant men and women with tremendous amounts to offer and it’s far more beneficial for the military and the individual to take care of the mental health aspect so they can continue to support and put in the great work members do,” said Crews. “The benefits far outweigh any worries you may have.”