Over the past two days, I have been getting a bit of the fire-hose method of learning about military culture and lifestyle, how that affects individuals’ and families’ mental health, and how civilian mental health professionals can appropriately support service members, veterans, and their families.
Our presenters, who both work with the Center for Deployment Psychology and have been on active duty with military units downrange as mental health professionals, offered that “fire-hose” metaphor, and it is an apt one. Just in that sentence, I may already have said something that made no sense to you, dear reader, if you are a civilian. “Downrange.” In country, in a combat zone.
It is one thing to discuss PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance use in grad school classes and papers, to hear and to write about how these issues may be part of the military experience. It is a whole different ballgame to go through the same training, deployment process, and real-life combat experiences alongside the many (and yet all too few compared to the whole population) men and women who now volunteer at all levels to go through these incredibly intense experiences.
It is one thing to consider, discuss, and engage with a couple’s or family’s concerns of daily life; it is another thing altogether to engage with the family in which both partners love and care about one another deeply, yet are preparing for an extended separation during which both partners know that one of them will be functioning as a single parent/head of household while the other is potentially in danger of losing their life on any given day, often unable to talk about it with the partner still at home, and that partner still at home maintains as best they can while struggling not to worry themselves or their children needlessly. When the deployed partner returns, how will he or she reintegrate with a family and a civilian life which have grown, adapted, changed, moved forward, had to push away reminders of the deployed person’s absence … how do we in the civilian community invite this individual with his or her battle-forged strengths back into our world, honoring the sometimes wrenching choices they have had to make and opening the path forward for their return as valuable people that we still want as part of our human team?
I could go on, but here’s the point: this is where the professional rubber meets the road for me. The men and women who have served, and the families who love them, need and deserve the availability of mental health professionals and services that are fully aware of the unique concerns they struggle with. More than that, they deserve professionals and services that respect their strengths and the unique energy they bring to bear in overcoming each challenge with which they are confronted.
This is why I am so proud and excited to be part of two awesome programs: the STAR Behavioral Health Providers program, and Give an Hour. SBHP sponsored the training I was in this week, the second of three sessions. Georgia is just the second state in the US to offer this program, which is training willing civilian mental health professionals to effectively meet the needs of service members and their families. The Give an Hour program allows willing mental health professionals to pledge at least one hour per week of services at no cost to OEF/OIF/OND service members, veterans, and their families who are in need of services but unable to access or afford those services through traditional means.
The men and women of our armed forces volunteer to sacrifice so much for us. You may have seen the internet meme that soldiers, sailors, and airmen “wrote a blank check to the American people up to and including life’s blood.” It’s quite true. Although I have not myself served in that way, here is one thing I can do. I will stand ready to help. I will offer my listening ear, understanding, awareness, and skill to support you in coming back to the present and moving into the future, whoever you are and whatever your experience has been. I will be one more person who has your 6, and be honored to do so. Just give me the word.