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Keeping the pack strong: Your mental health teams

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mackenzie Mendez
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series designed to highlight helping agencies and resiliency at Kunsan Air Base.

One in five adults in the United States, roughly 46.6 million, experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The Air Force’s Comprehensive Airman Fitness pillars are key to ensuring Airmen are taking care of each other while maintaining balance in their lives.

The 8th Medical Group Mental Health Clinic is at the center of the Air Force’s CAF model, providing the tools Airmen need to lead a healthy lifestyle while also ensuring the pack is fit to fight.

“As mental health professionals, we are responsible for educating Airmen, frontline supervisors and commanders about the resources available for managing the mental pillar,” said Capt. Josilyn Banks, 8th MDG Mental Health element chief and director of psychological health. “We are trained in conceptualization; analyzing every aspect of an Airman’s life and helping them focus on the whole Airman concept and create balance between all four pillars.”

As a specialty care clinic, mental health only sees a very small percentage of Airmen. Sixty percent of mental health concerns are resolved at the primary care level with an Airman’s primary care manager or through the Behavioral Health Optimization Program, according to Banks. BHOP is a consultation service within primary care designed to target issues affecting optimal functioning.

Although mental health only sees a small portion of the Kunsan population, early intervention and prevention of stress and mental illness, such as depression, for all Airmen are top priorities for the clinic.

“We’re constantly in collaboration with base helping agencies to identify local trends and concerns in order to mitigate them the best we can,” said Tech. Sgt. Jessica Osgood, 8th MDG Mental Health Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program NCO in charge and certified addictions counselor. “The mission at each base is going to help dictate what those trends are. We talk about the concerns and come up with ways to focus on the needs of our location.”

The 8th MDG Mental Health clinic offers numerous classes open to Airmen of all ranks that specifically target concerns and trends seen at Kunsan. These courses cover topics such as relaxation and sleep hygiene, mindfulness and communication, and chronic pain management. Additionally, the ADAPT program provides responsible drinking education to Airmen, both as requested and to those referred.

In addition to classes, professional enhancement courses such as First Term Airmen Course have played an integral part in educating Airmen on maintaining a healthy work-life balance as well as communicating mental health success stories.

“As our force becomes younger and younger, we want to focus on providing our Airmen with tools to help them manage what is going on in their lives,” said Capt. Christina Kyc, 8th MDG Mental Health flight commander, ADAPT program manager and licensed clinical social worker. “We encourage frontline supervisors to get involved and get to know their Airmen on a deeper level. By recognizing their goals and accomplishments, as well as when Airmen are struggling, leaders are better able to refer Airmen to applicable agencies for assistance when needed.”

Recently, Air Force senior leaders implemented a Resilience Tactical Pause with the purpose to increase Airmen connectedness and increase unit cohesion, trust and confidence in command teams while soliciting feedback to evolve the Air Force’s approach to decrease suicides and increase the well-being of Airmen.

“The RTP gives us an opportunity to reconnect with helping agencies and focus on continuous resilience and continuous prevention,” said Banks. “By emphasizing the concept of ‘taking care of your people,’ we are one step closer to creating a lasting culture change surrounding mental health.”

The 8th MDG Mental Health clinic staff has three officers and five enlisted members, including an advanced nurse practitioner credentialed to prescribe medications. Enlisted mental health professionals also have the capability to teach and treat patients under their commissioned counterparts’ licenses.

“Due to the provider extender culture, we have been able to triple our access to people on base,” said Banks. “It extends our capabilities, trains our technicians and creates a more well-rounded office. It also increases our presence on the base by giving our technicians the tools to help and educate Airmen about mental health.”