VILSECK, Germany - When it comes to mental health, I\'ve noticed that most people prefer not to talk about it. It's almost as if bringing up the topic somehow implies they're suffering from mental health problems.

It's an unfortunate stigma that continues to plague our military communities. A stigma, I believe, that people will have to overcome individually.

First step' Know what to expect. Recently, I put myself to the test and requested to go through the entire mental health process as a patient. My goal was to shed light on what actually happens behind closed doors in mental health.

Truthfully, it was like a routine medical appointment.

Anti-climatic, I know.

The waiting room was full of people just like you and me. Maybe they were suffering from stress because their spouse is deployed or maybe they were having some anxiety because their finances weren't up to par. I reported with general stress. With a deployed spouse, a full-time job, the chore of buying winter tires and a dog that goes to the vet more than I go to the doctor, who wouldn't be a little stressed'

With mental health, you don't have to make an appointment so I walked up to the counter and was given a stack of paperwork to fill out. Most of it was privacy information. I learned that unless I intended to harm myself or others that the conversation with the provider would stay between the two of us. It was a huge relief. Maybe it shouldn't be a big deal, but I wouldn't want my employer or anyone else to know I was there; just like I wouldn't want my employer to know if I was being treated for heat rash. It's no different in my book.

Since I didn't have an appointment, a nurse called me back to her office to prescreen me. She asked a lot of questions - most of which were required - and determined which provider I needed to see. There were a couple of questions that I didn't expect, like have I had thoughts of killing myself or was I having delusions.

After the brief interview, I went back to the waiting room. As I approached the counter to turn in my paperwork, I saw one of my co-workers in the hallway. Instantly I wanted to find a place to hide. All I could think was that every time I see him from this point forward he'll be thinking, "better be careful, this one is crazy."

Clearly, I am not immune to the stigma. And while my gut reaction was to run, I decided to stay. Even though it was difficult, I was determined to beat the stigma.

Eventually I went back to the provider's office and we talked for almost an hour. I was surprised at how much stress I put on myself. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed venting about it to a neutral party.

Sure, I vent to my mom or my husband or my friends - I definitely don't internalize my feelings - but this was somehow different. I could say anything and it was met with open interest and without judgment.

It was awesome.

Afterward, I still felt like myself. I wasn't ashamed for going and if I ever feel like I need someone to listen, I won't hesitate to call this provider. As someone who wanted to run and hide when I was "spotted" an hour earlier, it says a lot about the quality of care I received.

Overall, the idea of seeing a mental health provider can be intimidating or a little scary, but in reality it's like a routine medical appointment. The real challenge is facing your personal stigma against mental health. I can tell you from experience that the care you receive is well worth the stress of fighting the stigma. Now more than ever, I believe it's OK to seek help.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16