ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Between rising COVID-19 concerns and mandatory health precautions in effect nationwide, there are many factors that can affect a person's mental health. Maintaining a strong and positive state-of-mind during this time can be difficult, but there are many resources available that can help. The leadership team from the 97th Medical Group Mental Health Clinic, Altus Air Force Base, took the time to answer the most commonly asked questions regarding the importance of mental health. The team includes: Maj. Kamy Jenkins, the 97th MDG Mental Health Clinic flight commander, Capt. Andrew Dimond, the 97th MDG Mental Health Clinic element chief, Master Sgt. Jessica Williams, the 97th MDG Mental Health Clinic flight chief, and Capt. Amanda Johnson, the 97th Air Mobility Wing Family Advocacy officer.
Q: What is the importance of mental health?
“Taking care of our mental health is important for every aspect of our lives. When our mental health is affected it can impact our physical health, work performance, quality of life and relationships. It can also affect our ability to identify and help others around us when they are in need,” said Dimond.
Why do you think it is important to maintain healthy and strong mental health, in and out of the work environment?
“Just like physical health, our mental health can impact our ability to perform at our optimal best in and outside the work environment. Whether it’s anger/irritability, poor concentration, stress, anxiety, depressed mood; all of these can impact how we function throughout the day. We have to ensure we take care of our mental health just as we would our physical health at this time. By limiting our exposure to negative inputs and focusing on the things we can control, this is a place to start,” said Jenkins.
“The saying goes, ‘when you look good, you feel good,’ which is only sometimes true. The more accurate statement is, ‘when you feel good, you look good.’ Self-care is synonymous with self-love; which is needed to increase self-esteem. When we love ourselves, we strive for a better life. Mental health is a vital part of our lives, much like physical health. It cannot be compartmentalized because it impacts every aspect of our life. Good mental health allows an individual to become more self-aware, which opens the door for self-improvement and gives the opportunity to work to one’s full potential, increasing effectiveness and productivity on-and-off duty,” said Johnson.
Q: What are some of the difficulties that an individual could face during this time?
“When we are faced with changes to our schedules and routines, it can disrupt our normal healthy coping strategies. It is important to be flexible during this time and not set your expectations too high. Replacement activities may not be the ones you would prefer, but may have to do until you can return to the activities that are your go-to activities, remind yourself it won’t be forever, this is just temporary. Don’t be afraid to try new things during this time or think outside the box, you may actually find that you like something new. During times of increased stress, there can be increased cases of negative behaviors. Examples could be problematic alcohol use and/or domestic violence. If you have concerns for yourself or someone you know, please contact the Mental Health Clinic for assistance and/or referral or seek out assistance from any of the listed resources below,” said Jenkins.
Q: What are some ways to help overcome these difficulties?
“Staying in touch with loved ones, co-workers or anyone that is in your circle is imperative. There is an inclusive list of free apps available to be utilized on your phone. In addition, using free activities like virtual tours, games and audible books can also be helpful. It is also important not to exclusively use online resources, but balance those with reading a book, magazine, drawing a picture, and writing. Being outside (keeping a safe social distance) is also good for the soul and one’s mental health. It is also imperative to continue an exercise regimen,” said Williams.
Q: What are some tools to help build your mental health?
“The DoD and VA have developed a series of smartphone apps that are excellent, and free, resources for learning ways of improving your mental health. Standout apps include: Virtual Hope Box (has relaxation skills training along with puzzles and games), CBT-I Coach (teaches ways to improve your sleep), and Mindfulness Coach (teaches about how to cultivate mindfulness in your life),” said Dimond
“Research proves that people who approach each day with a positive attitude and/or grateful mentality have a more resilient outlook. Just like a muscle in our body, it has to be built over a period of time. If we do not work this muscle or practice this skill, we tend to lose it. Being grateful for small things, over time can lead to being thankful for bigger things over time and increased resiliency during times of increased stress. Also, keeping your mind engaged in positive, motivational things will increase an optimistic outlook and your mental state. With current limitations in place, seeking videos that focus on motivational and/or self-improvement type lessons, can be a great way to improve one’s mental state. Be sure to get your dose of sunshine and exercise. Vitamin D from sunshine is necessary for our mental state and research has proven that 30 minutes of exercise each day can in some cases can be just as effective as a psychotropic medication,” said Jenkins.
Q: What are some tips you would like to share with Airmen and their families, especially for those who are alone during this time?
“Anxiety and worry can be like quicksand; the more we struggle with them, the more they are able to engulf our lives. Sometimes, instead of wanting to reject the reality around us it is better to accept what is occurring and focus on what we can actually control in our lives to make the situation better, such as being able to do actions like washing our hands to reduce the chance of disease spread. It can also be beneficial to look for bright spots in our day and in our lives and focus on gratitudes and positive things which have occurred during this time,” said Dimond.
“Being alone can be difficult, especially during a stressful period of time. Reaching out and staying connected to family and friends is important. Keeping your mind engaged in enjoyable activities is also important. If none of these things are possible, then it is a good idea to reach out to an agency such as Military One Source online to talk to a counselor as a prevention measure in order to ensure you maintain an optimum healthy mental state while going through this challenging time. It is normal to struggle and have some sadness and or worry during a national crisis and especially if you are feeling isolated. It is also normal and encouraged to reach out for assistance with those feelings through any of the resources listed below,” said Jenkins.
Q: What are some of the warning signs of a mental illness and how can you help?
“Some possible signs in ourselves or others include less social engagement, lack of motivation, thinking that things we used to enjoy are not worth doing, and increased irritability. In addition excessive worry that is leading to panic, feelings of hopelessness and an overall inability to relax should also be taken into account. A slight deviation from your normal baseline functioning is expected in a time like this, however if you are unable to get back to your somewhat normal baseline, it may be helpful to talk to someone. If you notice these signs in someone else, you can genuinely ask how they are doing and let them know that you want to help them. Sometimes you can help someone with just small gestures that show you care and listening to what they are experiencing,” said Dimond
“To add on to Capt Dimond’s statement - when checking in on others, it is important to listen to hear their words, not listen to reply; only when reply is warranted. Let people know they matter,” said Jenkins.
“Intervention for changes in mental status vary, just like interventions for your physical health. Some interventions can be handled through self-care care and some may need counseling with a therapist. In more acute cases it may mean a small stay at an increased level of care for stabilization, but this is rare. You seek counseling when you want to be the best version of yourself that you can be and want to enhance your performance in order to perform at your optimal best. Military members do not necessarily have to be seen in the MTF. They have options to be seen by the Chaplain with 100% confidentiality, the Military and Family Life Consultant at the Airman and Family Readiness Center with no documentation or by Military One Source (via community therapist or online counselor). The Mental Health Clinic remains open to seeing all military members and addressing mental health, ADAPT and Family Advocacy concerns,” said Jenkins.
Q: If someone was in need of help, where could they find it?
Other resources include:
Military One Source: (provides phone or video counselors for free to service members and their families) counseling services remain available by phone, video and online. To schedule an appointment, call (800) 342-9647 or live chat through their website here.
There are also free hotlines such as the Veterans Crisis Line that can be reached 24 hours a day via phone, online or text (800) 273-8255 or 838255. This is available for veterans and their family members. Or visit this link
There is also another crisis texting app that can be reached at Crisis Text Line: text Hello to 741741.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233
Q: What is one message you would like to send to the Airmen on base?
“Antifragility refers to the tendency for us to become tougher and more resilient after a challenge, whether it is our muscles strengthening after exercise or our mental fortitude becoming greater after a stressor. The key to antifragility is being placed under stress, but not so much that it breaks you. If you think that you are being pushed to your breaking point, please reach out to someone. There is nothing wrong with getting help to make it through significant stress and come out stronger from it. Just like how people need a spotter when they bench-press, it can be vital to have someone be your emotional spotter who can help you if your stress becomes too heavy,” said Dimond.
“Seek out optimism and gratitude every day. Simon Sinek says, optimism helps! optimism is the belief that the future is positive and we will get through this together. It is not the denial that things are a struggle at this time. When we focus on optimism and gratitude each day, we can focus on and be thankful for what we can do rather than what we can’t do. We can begin to realize that we can all try to do our best and we begin to give others the benefit of the doubt rather than criticizing one another. The one thing every one of us can do is to reach out to others and ensure their wellness, this is in fact what we do as our basic Wingman concept,” said Jenkins.
Q: Additional comments from the Mental Health team:
“Ensure you are taking a break from the constant news feeds on all forms of media outlets. The constant exposure to the information is overwhelming and can lead to more panic and increased anxiety. It is important to stay informed, but in brief periods. Staying connected to your or your spouse’s unit is also important to ensure you are also receiving pertinent local updates,” said Williams.
“Take online classes: 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free here. Read/listen to books or podcasts: Libby and Overdrive are free apps that allow you to borrow e-books and digital audiobooks from your public library. And focus on family closeness and reduce conflict here
,” said Jenkins.