Seven No-Fail Way to Make Friends: The Shy Person’s Guide

By Christine Leccese, MPH

Making FriendsThey say “you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.” That’s certainly true and some sage words. Thing is, you aren’t necessarily born with friends like you are with family. The responsibility to have friends is on you.  If you are someone who others reach out to with lots of invitations, you’re all set. However, if you are someone who is more reserved, moves a lot (Hello, PCS?) or not generally that outgoing, making friends can seem harder than solving the Rubik’s Cube. But, friends are worth the trouble! Not only do friends make life more fun, research shows that social connections improve your health and longevity.

Some people are better at making friends than others. While there is certainly an art to making friends, anyone at any time in their life can make new friends. Just think, when a senior citizen goes into an assisted living facility he or she has to make new friends. Yes, you’ll still need to make friends at 80, so you might as well get some practice. It’s never too late to expand your social network – regardless of whether you call yourself shy.

  1. Leave the couch. It may sound silly, but if you don’t get out in the world, you won’t find new people with whom to make friends. Go out and do something you genuinely like – volunteer on a political campaign, join a church group, stop by the local knitting store, play on a local a soccer team or learn something new. These kinds of activities are great because you already have something in common with the others when you walk through the door.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you meet someone who you think would be fun to spend time with, reach out. The reality is that many people do not reach out to others proactively to make new friends. They have their friends from high school or work or some other activity. The plain fact is that if you want new friends, you have to reach out. I coached my social phobic cousin through many parties and friendship efforts. She wanted to know why people didn’t invite her to go out and why she always had to be the person to reach out. Get over it. If you want friends and company, put yourself out there.
  3. If he or she doesn’t take you up on your offer, don’t be offended. So now you’ve finally reached out and invited someone to do something and are moving toward having a new friend. That person declined your offer, which was your biggest fear. Don’t take it personally if you get turned down. There are lots of reasons someone doesn’t want a new friend, and most of them have nothing to do with you.
  4. Remember everyone’s favorite subjects: their kids, themselves and their vacations. If you’re having trouble striking up conversation, remember everyone’s favorite subjects. Twenty years ago, I coached my cousin through a May party by telling her to ask people if they were taking any vacations that summer. If I’m with her at a party today, she still uses it to make conversation. It’s not controversial, reminds the person of something pleasant, and could establish common ground. Don’t be worried about appearing “nosy.” Most people genuinely appreciate any interest shown in them.
  5. It’s OK to share. The more you tell a person about yourself, the more he or she is likely to share. Once you start sharing and getting to know each other, the friendship can grow.
  6. Be authentic. Of course everyone wants to come across well to others. But, you don’t do anyone any favors if you are not being your genuine self.
  7. Work through the awkwardness.  Making new friends is like dating. First, you establish that you like someone and spend some time together. Then, you may go out with just the two of you. It is awkward at first as everyone puts their best face forward. Don’t let awkward feelings dissuade you from continuing.

Some things in life make it easier to make friends For example, having children the same age is an instant entry into the parenthood group. Look for those people with whom you have something in common and get “friending.”

Christine Leccese is the communications and marketing manager at Military Pathways, an anonymous, online mental health self-assessment for service members, veterans, and their families. The assessments are fast and easy. Check them out at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org.

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Join us for 31 Days of Healthy Living

By Christine Leccese, MPH

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Shejal Pulivarti, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Shejal Pulivarti, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

Summer is a great time to commit to healthy living. You get a 4-month jump on a New Year’s resolution, the weather is warm, and your thoughts are about vacation, getting outside, and socializing. Throughout the month of August, join Military Pathways to commit to 31 days of healthy living.  A healthy body needs a healthy mind and vice versa, so commit to making changes in one area to improve both.

An important first step is to take a mental health self-assessment to see if you have symptoms that would benefit from professional help. The assessments are free and anonymous and available to service members, veterans, and their families at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org.

Week 1: Lifestyle Changes

There are lots of lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health. If your first thought about this is “I’ll start going to the gym,” think again. Sure, exercise is important, but there are other changes you can make that will improve your health, too. You can take steps to reduce stress, practice deep breathing, or increase your socializing time. All these changes will improve your mental and physical health.

Week 2: Summer Activities

Gardening, hiking, and whatever else makes summer special for you can also be very healthy steps. Lots of service members and veterans have found that the peace they find on a fishing boat, hiking trail, or in the garden, help them escape from feelings of PTSD. Summer is a great time to seize the day, as well as an opportunity to get yourself started on some good outdoor activities in the fall.

Week 3: Positive Thinking

There is a lot of talk about being positive and optimistic. People seem to want to divide the world up into those who see the glass half full and those who see it as half empty. What if it’s not that simple? What if you really could make yourself, if not a half full person, someone who can appreciate the good in your life and use it to improve your mood and health?

Look no further than your mobile phone or other device. You can download apps that help you to do everything from remembering what makes you grateful, activating personalized messages, or tracking your mood. One mobile application, Virtual Hope Box, provides help with emotional regulation and coping with stress via personalized supportive audio, video, pictures, games, mindfulness exercises, positive messages and activity planning, inspirational quotes, coping statements, and other tools.

Week 4: Seeking Help

While there are lots of different lifestyle changes we can all make, there are certain situations in which someone needs professional help. Whether that help is in the form of talk therapy, trauma therapy, medication or something else, it is vitally important for people who need it.

There are several options for PTSD treatments, as well as depression, anxiety, alcohol use disorders and more. Take a self-assessment at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org to find geographic and branch-specific referrals and to see different tips on coping with common mental health conditions.

Christine Leccese is the communications and marketing manager at Military Pathways.

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Resilient Families = Strong Families: Resiliency Training May Help Your Home Life Too

By Tracey Linegar Taylor

Resilient familyWe’ve all heard relationships take work.  Military marriages are no different. In fact, because of the unique stressors these families face, like multiple moves, deployments and combat-related injuries, military marriages may take more work.

So, how can military families maintain strong relationships and overcome threats to their marriages? One word, three syllables: resilience. Families who are resilient are more likely to have stronger, lasting relationships.

Characteristics of Resilient Families

In her book, “Strengthening Family Resilience,” resilience specialist Dr. Froma Walsh identifies nine characteristics that resilient families share. These characteristics highlight the family belief systems, organizational patterns, and communication and problem-solving skills that foster resilience.

  • Finding meaning in adversity. Resilient families view crises as shared challenges that together they can understand, manage and make meaningful in some way. They see their emotions as human and understandable under the circumstances, and believe in their ability to learn from their experiences and move forward.
  • Positive outlook. Resilient families have an optimistic, rather than pessimistic, view of life. Members see each other’s strengths and offer encouragement to overcome difficulties or accept what can’t be changed have a positive outlook.
  • Transcendence and spirituality. Resilient families have beliefs and values that offer meaning, purpose and connection beyond their personal lives and troubles. They find strength and comfort in their cultural and religious traditions and experience spiritual inspiration in a variety of ways, including nature, the arts, service to others, and faith in a higher power.
  • Flexibility. Resilient families adapt to change. They’re able to adjust their family roles and rules to fit new life challenges while maintaining the rituals and traditions that provide stability in their relationships. Their flexibility depends on strong yet nurturing leadership, guidance, protection of children and mutual respect in the marital relationship.
  • Connectedness. Resilient families pull together during times of crisis. They’re able to function as a team and support each other while respecting individual needs, differences and boundaries.
  • Social and economic resources. When they can’t solve problems on their own, resilient families reach out for help by turning to extended family, friends, neighbors, community services or counseling.
  • Open emotional sharing. Resilient families accept and encourage a wide range of emotional expression (joy, sadness, fear, silliness, etc.) in adults and children. Family members take responsibility for their own feelings and accept others who have different feelings. They value positive interactions and appreciate humor, even as they cope with difficult circumstances.
  • Clarity. Resilient families practice clear, consistent and honest communication. Family members say what they mean and mean what they say; thus they avoid sending vague, confusing or mixed messages to each other.
  • Collaborative problem solving. Resilient families manage their difficulties by working together to understand a problem and identify ways to solve it. They make decisions together in ways that allow family members to disagree openly, and then resolve those disagreements through negotiation and compromise. These families seek to repair the hurts and misunderstandings that go along with conflicts and act proactively to solve current problems and prevent future ones. They also learn from their mistakes.

Divorce: Not an Automatic Result for Rocky Military Marriages

If you are feeling a little insecure about the success of your marriage, don’t think that because you are a military couple you’ll automatically end in divorce. Military marriages are no more likely than non-military marriages to end in divorce.  A study by Benjamin Karney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, compared marriage and divorce rates of military personnel and civilians in the three years before and after the conflicts began in Afghanistan and Iraq. After accounting for differences in age, race, education and employment, the study revealed that despite a surge in overseas deployment from 2002-2005, divorce rates did NOT increase for military service members. And here’s more good news, as members of the military got older, they were even less likely to be divorced.

Family resiliency is an important factor in preventing marital problems and divorce. So, the next time you are faced with resiliency training, from the command or family readiness group, perk up and pay extra attention – it just might help strengthen or save your marriage.

Tracey Linegar Taylor is an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry and a retired Army nurse corps officer.  She is a senior policy analyst at Altarum Institute, consulting with the Deployment Health Clinical Center.

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Let’s Not Forget the Veterans of the Gulf War

 By Adrian Zupp

With the recent, lengthy conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it sometimes seems like the Gulf War that followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, has almost been lost in the rapids of history. But for all those affected by that war, including almost 700,000 U.S. troops, it remains a vivid, and in many cases painful, event.

One of the legacies of that war two decades ago is what is known as Gulf War Illness (aka Gulf War Syndrome). To this day, there is considerable dispute about whether this really is a coherent illness or not. What can be said is that a slew of symptoms have been included under the GWI/GWS rubric.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clusters the symptoms into three general areas:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood and cognition problems
  • Musculoskeletal problems.

Among the second category of symptoms – those of a psychological nature – are such things as depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However one views the notion of Gulf War Illness, there is no denying that many veterans of this conflict exhibit these symptoms and suffer with them on a daily basis.

Some have sought help. Others haven’t. But it is important for veterans of any conflict to have a good sense of their mental health and to take any necessary steps to improve it. A free, anonymous online screening is the simplest way to get closer to an understanding of the true condition of one’s mental health.

No veteran should have to suffer in silence. Not one should be “left behind.” The mental health of all who have endured combat – as well as the loved ones who shared the experience – should be both a personal and a national priority. And that includes the veterans of historically receding Gulf War.

Adrian Zupp is the marketing writer at Screening for Mental Health.

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Veteran Turned Guard Family Readiness Group Leader Continues to Serve

By Christine Leccese
“If something is important enough for someone to pick up the phone, it’s important,” says Gina A. Gillman, Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader in the Massachusetts National Guard, military wife, and former soldier. Gillman, whose husband has just deployed, has spent the past five years as the FRG leader for the 972 Military Police unit of the National Guard in Massachusetts.

Military Pathways caught up with Gillman at Hanscom Air Force Base recently to talk about the unique rewards and challenges that FRG leaders in the Guard experience.

The families of Guardsmen don’t usually live near a military base, so it can be a challenge for them to know where to turn with questions or problems, Gillman says. For this reason, many of the Guard family members call Gillman, who has experience helping families, but can also personally relate to the issues people in her FRG face.

Gillman is in the unique position of experiencing a deployment from both sides. She has been the deployed parent and spouse, as well as the spouse and parent left at home. Even with these two perspectives, she says her biggest challenge is trying to relate to every situation her families talk to her about. “I try to give people advice, but I don’t know what it’s like to have a child deployed,” she points out. She still lends a sympathetic ear to everyone who calls, gives them information they may need, and refers those looking for specific resources to the family assistance specialists.

Like most Guard families, Gillman works in a civilian job. She is an acquisitions specialist at Hanscom Air Force Base, and lives about 40 minutes away from any official Guard family resources. She loves her work as an FRG leader and said that any person involved with a soldier can attend FRG functions, contact the FRG, or get involved in any way they want. “People think we’re only a ‘wives’ group, but the truth is you can talk to the FRG if you’re a parent, sibling, or even friend or neighbor if you’re close to the Guardsman,” Gillman says.

Unlike active duty service members who usually live on or near base far from extended family, Guard members and Reservists often live near parents or siblings. This can make a deployment seem even more “real” to a parent. One parent in Gillman’s FRG got involved with the group by helping to plan events and write the newsletter.

Understandably, the FRG is more active when Guardsmen are deployed. While Gillman tries to hold two events a year when Guardsmen are not deployed, she is holding one every month now since the 972 unit recently deployed. As the FRG leader, one of Gillman’s roles is to keep families informed of the travel status of the soldiers. She does this via the 972 Family Readiness Group Facebook page and in regular newsletters.

The FRG recently held a Youth Deployment Day in which children of soldiers were able to get their faces made up with camouflage, eat MREs, and handle some military equipment. “The kids loved it and it was a great success, she recalls. She said it was a great success and the kids had a great time.

As someone who has been around the military for 10+ years, Gillman said she sees an evolution to a greater understanding of the needs of military families. The days of “the army didn’t issue you a family” are coming to a close, she said. “Soldiers can’t do their mission if they are worried about their families at home,” she points out. She said that the commander she works with on the 972 is very supportive of her efforts, and always keeps her informed so that she can keep FRG members informed.

Whatever families use the FRG for, and whomever accesses it, it is ultimately a resource so that families can lean on other families who understand their struggles. “I can talk to someone at work about missing my husband, but when my coworkers go home their husbands are there,” Gillman says.

And so she is committed to making a difference. A very important one.

Christine Leccese is the communications and marketing manager at Military Pathways.

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Traditional and Complementary Treatment Help Young Iraq War Vet Get Relief From PTSD Symptoms

By Christine Leccese, MPH

A Paratrooper from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, searches for improvised explosive devices along Highway 1, July 23, 2012, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Dismounted troops are often better at finding wires leading to IEDs. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak, Task Force 1-82 PAO)

A Paratrooper from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, searches for improvised explosive devices along Highway 1, July 23, 2012, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Dismounted troops are often better at finding wires leading to IEDs. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak, Task Force 1-82 PAO)

Elijah Ochoa, the son of a soldier, was always interested in what the recruiters had to say when they would come to his Selma, California high school during his junior year. He also had a driving curiosity about who cared for wounded soldiers on the battlefield. By the time he was 17, Ochoa had enlisted in the U.S. Army on the delayed entry program with the goal of becoming a medic.

In May of 2004, 18-year-old Ochoa shipped off to basic training in South Carolina, then got his medical training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and was finally sent to his duty station with the 3rd Infantry Division in Fort Stewart, Georgia. He gained a lot from his medic training and felt prepared to deploy to the battlefield.

Ochoa deployed in 2005 for 13 months to Iraq, and then again in 2007 for 15 months. In between the two deployments, Ochoa noticed he picked up a habit that had never before appealed to him: drinking. He didn’t find it problematic, but he did recognize that he was using it to cope with stress. When he returned from his second deployment in March 2008, Ochoa felt fine. He went through reintegration training and other than some nightmares and general anxiety, he thought all was well.

After a few months, stress started to set in and sleep started to deteriorate.  Seeking a change, he decided to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. However, once there he learned that many of the sights, sounds, and smells of the city became triggers for trauma memories.

After 2 ½ years of seeing maimed and injured people as a medic, being within 50 meters of being hit by an IED and riding in convoys that were hit with small arms fires, Ochoa had many images that could come rushing back. He began to get confused between his reality and his memories, and that was very scary.

An empty can rolling on the floor of a bus he was riding on became a smoke grenade in his mind and, jumping up in fear, Ochoa was back in Ramadi in central Iraq. A homeless man getting too close and touching Ochoa at a rail stop was nearly thrown onto the path of an oncoming train as Ochoa’s hyperawareness kicked into high gear.

Even just walking around the city could bring up memories. “I’d walk outside a building or coffee shop and that humming noise of people talking would bring back memories of mass casualties and suicide bombings,” Ochoa said. “Eventually, I didn’t want to leave my apartment at all.”

He wasn’t aware of what was happening to him, and he wishes he had taken a PTSD self-assessment at www.MindBodyStrength.org  as it would have spared him months of pain.

With the hyperawareness and flashbacks came depression and panic attacks. One panic attack eventually landed Ochoa in a hospital emergency room where a psychiatrist recognized Ochoa’s symptoms as PTSD and referred him to a VA outpatient clinic, where he began treatment for PTSD. One-on-one exposure therapy, behavioral therapy, and group therapy helped, but Ochoa knew he needed more.

While in a particularly difficult place emotionally, a friend took Ochoa through a visualization meditation, also called guided imagery. The friend led him on an exercise in which they visualized a beautiful spot the two had visited when hiking a couple of weeks earlier. “This was a tremendously emotional experience because I felt like, for the first time in a while, I could quiet my ruminating mind and ease my anxiety,” he said. This led Ochoa down another path of exploring ways to manage his PTSD and stress on a daily basis.

The same friend later taught him about mindfulness meditation.  With this technique, Ochoa said he worked on focusing on his breath and being mentally in the moment, instead of constantly thinking of things that made him anxious. When other thoughts would pop into his brain, he would gently let them go and continue focusing on his breathing.

Ochoa was soon introduced to another form of meditation in Tibetan singing bowls, a practice in which people listen to the soothing sounds of a small mallet hitting a bowl during the meditation.  “The wooden mallets in the crystal singing bowls create a beautiful pitch and vibration, and help you as you draw breaths in and out over what feels like minutes. The sounds are very pure and healing. This creates a peaceful and silent awareness where real growth and healing happens.  It’s changed my life for the better,” Ochoa says.

Ochoa has taken his experience as a medic and as someone who suffered and is now recovered from PTSD and harnessing it help other veterans. He has a year left to complete his nursing program, and has already secured a position as a psychiatric nurse at his local VA’s inpatient unit.

Christine Leccese is the marketing and communications manager of Military Pathways.

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Yellow Ribbon Program Provides Support, Resources, and Friendship

By Andrea Carlile

Tech Sgt. Nicholas Carbonia, a crew member with the 188th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, left, speaks with Jon Woodham, a representative with the Arkansas Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve chapter during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration predeployment event March 3, 2012, at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Tech Sgt. Nicholas Carbonia, a crew member with the 188th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, left, speaks with Jon Woodham, a representative with the Arkansas Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve chapter during a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration predeployment event March 3, 2012, at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Fort Smith, Arkansas

I was introduced to the Yellow Ribbon Program for the Air Force Reserves in 2013 in Norfolk, Virginia after my story and book, The War That Came Home, was featured in USA Today about how PTSD affects the entire family.

The Yellow Ribbon contacted my husband and me about sharing our story at an event. I would soon discover what an incredible gem the Yellow Ribbon Program is for Reserve families. It offers resources, workshops, and the opportunity to meet and connect with other families who are at various stages of deployment. With June being PTSD awareness month, it’s a great time to highlight the importance of this wonderful program, as well as the online anonymous mental health self-assessments Military Pathways offers at www.MindBodyStrength.org. Once at the site, users enter some demographic information and answer a simple set of questions about their symptoms and get immediate feedback and resources.

When my husband was deployed 4 years ago as an Air Force Reservist, the Yellow Ribbon was in its infancy and we did not even know about it. My husband was later diagnosed with PTSD and I was truly lost and did not know how to deal with the disorder. Four years later, at a Yellow Ribbon deployment event for Air Force Reserves, I ventured down the hall and rows of tables of information and wonderful personnel so willing to help. I was amazed! All this would have helped me immensely back when my husband came home with PTSD.

Pre and Post-Deployment Events

Yellow Ribbon holds an event for units before deployment, and three events upon returning (post-deployment), and there they cover a lot of ground. They offer information on everything from mental health to employment. I was impressed at how far awareness and education about PTSD and other deployment issues have come since my husband was deployed in 2009 and certainly from when he deployed in 2003. Military Pathways often provides free materials to National Guard pre- and post-deployment events and the educational and promotional materials help direct people to www.MindBodyStrength.org where they can take self-assessments.

Employment, Mental Health Support

There were workshops on writing resumes and organizations that assist Reservists with employment. (The unemployment rate for veterans is higher than that of civilians.) There were counseling groups, educational pamphlets, and chaplaincy to assist with combat stress and other psychological issues. Groups were present to support the families as they were dealing with all sorts of reintegration issues.

Peer Support

In the workshops we conducted, I saw those who were joyously celebrating their spouse returning encouraged those who were fearfully and sadly watching their spouse depart. These seasoned veterans offered support and encouragement, advice and life experience to those who were living through a deployment for the first time.

A few months later, I attended another Yellow Ribbon event, this time for the Army National Guard Wounded Warrior Transition Unit. I listened to story after story of the pain of facing PTSD, and the courage and long journey that those carrying these wounds must endure. There was a powerful connection with other spouses who were acting as caretakers, and walking a long and similar path. I left the event feeling refreshed, hopeful, and encouraged. I knew I was not alone. I saw a story I knew too well in the tears of those who I met, and I found connections that can only come from someone who has forged a similar journey.

Yellow Ribbon Future

As someone who was involved with two different Yellow Ribbon events, I feel the need to advocate for its importance and necessity. Whether the effects of a deployment are severe, such as coming back wounded or developing PTSD, or just that you need support as a family attempts to reintegrate, deployments are not a concept that a civilian can truly understand. Yellow Ribbon brings a community of Reservists and National Guard members and resources together to navigate these challenges and ensures that no one has to walk alone.

As I chatted with a command sergeant major that had PTSD, he began to weep and shared how he never knew how everything affected his family. He saw things differently after hearing my story and wanted to let his wife know how much he appreciated her standing by his side. After hearing his story, I looked at the man and realized I had never seen a soldier of such rank be so open and humble and I knew that I had gained new understanding of what it means to sacrifice. Yellow Ribbon brings together those who can help each other walk a challenging journey that comes only from shared life experience. Our service members and their families deserve this program to help them through the deployment process and to have access to those resources that they will need to overcome the challenges that they will likely face.

Andrea Carlile is the spouse of a 12-year military veteran, received her Master’s from Indiana Wesleyan University, speaks to groups about PTSD, and is pursuing a career in Family and Marital Therapy.  The War That Came Home is her first novel, and she will be releasing her second novel “Transformation” this summer.

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Case Study: Boone Medical Clinic and PTSD Awareness

By Christine Leccese

Throughout June, PTSD Awareness Month, the Military Pathways blog will feature posts that address PTSD. We have several posts that look issues such as how PTSD impacts people’s families, how alcohol interacts with PTSD, promising treatments for the condition and much, much more.

As part of Military Pathways mental health outreach and education efforts, we distribute free PTSD education kits to military and veteran locations around the world. The kits include enough material for more than 200 people. Below is a description of how one site used the materials.

Dominique Majied-Carter, RN, BSN, a deployment health nurse and case manager at Admiral Joel T. Boone Medical Clinic at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia BeacNAB Little Creek logoh, Va., sees a lot of troops and their dependents. She sees them at various stages of their deployments, and noticed that many of her patients were complaining of insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Recognizing the signs of PTSD, Majied-Carter would often refer them to the PTSD clinic at her facility, but decided she wanted to do some outreach and education as well.  That’s when she turned to the Military Pathways PTSD Screening and Awareness kits and started planning events.

To get the word out, she sent an email with information about the event to clinic staff, including the other four deployment health nurses in the area. She also used social media and posted the event on Facebook. Majied-Carter hung the Military Pathways PTSD posters in the Deployment Health and Medical Readiness Clinic, the Occupational Health Clinic and in the staff break rooms.

Looking to reach as many people as possible, Majied-Carter set up at the entrance of Boone Clinic which houses, in addition to the Deployment Health Clinic, the pediatric practice and primary care office.  She put the educational and screening materials on a table, and gave the Proud, Tough, Strong, Determined  t-shirts and Get a Handle on it tote bags (stuffed with PTSD educational materials) to anyone who agreed to take a screening.

Some people took the paper screening and between 10 and 20 scored positive and were referred to the clinic. Others realized by reading about the symptoms that they had had PTSD in the past, while others left with information about the online screening availability.

“Most of the people were appreciative that we were raising awareness about PTSD and that it is getting the attention it needs,” Majied-Carter said. “Many veterans commented that they would have loved to see this type of education sooner.”

Majied-Carter reported that she got a very positive response from the people who came, especially about the t-shirts. “Everybody, men and women, loved the message that was on the t-shirt.”

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Symposium Addresses Critical Issues
Female Service Members Face in Combat

The following article was posted by Diana Moon on the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) blog on May 20.

The Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat Jan. 23, 2013. The decision will open more than 230,000 jobs across all branches of the military. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony)

The Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat Jan. 23, 2013. The decision will open more than 230,000 jobs across all branches of the military. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony)

Women are integral members of the armed forces. Last year marked a milestone for female service members when the Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat. The decision overturned a 1994 rule that restricted women from the front lines.

As more women assume combat roles, defense-related organizations are examining issues related to those roles. There’s increased attention on whether current policies effectively support women in combat positions, including policies on women’s mental health and well-being.

That was the goal of the “Women in Combat Symposium” hosted in late April. Service members, veterans and military health care professionals gathered to take part of an effort by Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) and its partner organizations to help strengthen the mental health and resilience of women in combat. The event emphasized current mental health treatment programs, outreach and policies.

I listened to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness Dr. David J. Smith affirm the value of the symposium as an interchange of ideas and expertise.

“It’s about opportunity, and making sure standards are evidence-based with no gender bias,” he said. Smith paired those goals with identifying the roles leaders play in gender integration, refining women’s health issues, and education and training.

Discussion followed on operational performance, leadership, peer behaviors, and health and well-being. Participants drilled down on those issues during policy development exercises. Working groups identified key issues for women in combat roles that require attention.

Dr. Mark Bates, associate director, resilience and wellness at Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC), presented on Total Force Fitness and how mental health plays a key role in overall fitness. That led into other health and well-being presentations including:

  • psychological resilience
  • mental health
  • deployment, military women and adolescent children
  • family advocacy and domestic violence
  • family structure issues
  • nutritional factors
  • reproductive health
  • sex differences in drug metabolism

Capt. Wanda Finch, DHCC Access to Care division chief, led a discussion on psychological resilience.

“Resilience is a part of readiness,” she said. “However, there is limited guidance on resilience when it comes to women in combat and challenges with resilience program evaluations.” Finch identified data collection and the ability to keep it gender specific as part of research that merits further study.

Dr. Kate McGraw, associate director, psychological health clinical care at DHCC, steered the conversation toward mental health and well-being. (I learned that McGraw was one of the first female intercontinental ballistic missile launch officers in the U.S. Air Force.)

“Mental health is a key piece of the military operational environment,” said McGraw, adding that it relates specifically to women in combat situations. She said that researchers are interested in whether gender plays a role in how combat impacts mental health.

McGraw offered what I thought was an effective summary of what conference participants shared and accomplished.

“As women continue to integrate in greater numbers into the combat force, it’s important to take a close look at all the factors that may impact their physical and mental health – and ultimately their performance,” she said. “This symposium addressed critical issues our female service members may face in combat positions. We identified gaps and produced research and policy recommendations related to health and wellness, operational environments and leadership issues that we hope will enhance female service members’ ability to thrive as they integrate into their new combat roles across the Defense Department.”

Listening to some of the personal accounts of the participants, it’s apparent that health and well-being play a huge role before, during and after someone’s time in a combat environment. This symposium offered a progressive step toward shaping future policy.

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The ABCs of Accessing Mental Health Care for Military Families

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we know that while every family has its stress, military face unique stressors such as frequent moves, family deployments, and fear for a loved one’s safety. Military Pathways online, anonymous self-assessments are available 24/7 at www.MilitaryMentalHealth.org. Once someone takes a self-assessment, where does he or she turn next? There are a lot of resources for military families, but you have to know where to find them.

Below is a post Michelle Winning of the National Military Family Association (NMFA) wrote for Military Pathways about how military families can go about  accessing mental health care.

By Michelle Winning

Military family members come in many forms. You could be a parent, sibling, spouse, child, or friend. Supporting a service member means that you are facing unique challenges that can be difficult and stressful.

While stress is inevitable in any family, the best thing that you can do is learn how to manage it so you can have better control over its effects on your physical and mental health. The Department of Defense (DoD) Military Health System and Mental Health America have some great tips on managing stress.

Stop stress before it starts. A huge part of mental health care is preventing stress before it starts! Here are some ways to make sure that your family stays healthy and happy amidst some of the challenges of military life.

Care for Yourself: Everyday stress can place a tremendous strain on you. You are important! Many Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) and base gyms have alternative therapies like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage therapy. Check your local installation and sign up. Don’t hesitate. If you give yourself too much time to think about it, you’ll find a reason not to do it.

Care for Kids: Frequent deployments and moves can be stressful for military children— sometimes they just need a break! Your local Family Service Center has a list of programs for military kids in your area. To make sure the adults understand what military kids are going through, the National Military Family Association created informational toolkits for those who work with military kids and teens.

Additional resources: Sesame Workshop, Zero to Three, the Military Child Education Coalition, and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

Support for Parents: Stay connected with your service member child’s command by making sure you have his or her contact information during a deployment. Some military installations offer Welcome Home classes for parents about what to expect when their son or daughter returns home from deployment. Communities may also offer support through social service agencies, churches, and veteran’s organizations.

Additional resources: Military ParentingDeployment Health and Family Readiness Library, Military Homefront , USA4militaryfamilies

Care for Caregivers: It is extremely important that caregivers take time for themselves to unwind and recharge when caring for a wounded service member gets overwhelming. The Department of Defense has a great website on post-deployment programs. Military OneSource also has counselors available 24/7.

Where to get help. Sometimes it can take additional help to relieve stress symptoms. If you see that your stress is beginning to overwhelm you, there are many ways you can access preventive care and support:

  • On a military installation: A Military Treatment Facility, and at military installation Family Service Centers
  • With Chaplains and spiritual advisers
  • With DoD TRICARE Mental Health Providers: Family members, non-active duty members, and Reserve component members who have TRICARE can go directly to a mental health provider in the TRICARE network without a referral or prior authorization for the first eight sessions. Active duty service members must have a referral before receiving services. TRICARE Active Duty Programs: 888.363.2273; TRICARE for Life: 888.363.5433
  • Military OneSource: Counselors are available on the telephone 24/7; find information on getting up to 12 free counseling sessions; or find many articles on combat and operational stress.
  • At Veteran Affairs “Vet Centers”: Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling and outreach services to all veterans who served in any combat zone, and their families. Visit www.va.gov/rcs for a directory, or call toll free: 800.905.4675 (Eastern) and 866.496.8838 (Pacific).
  • At community mental health centers: To find local state resources, visit http://store.samhsa.gov/mhlocator.

Learn more

For more resources and information on mental and behavioral health care, check out the National Military Family Association’s Mental Health Care section on our website. Have questions? Connect with us on our website at www.militaryfamily.org, our Facebook page, or on Twitter @military family, where we post the most up-to-date information on all military family issues. Michelle Winning is an AmeriCorps member in the Government Relations department at the National Military Family Association.

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