FORT STEWART, Ga. -- As the holidays approach and COVID-19 pandemic cases rise again, it has become more important for leaders to not only continue to monitor their Soldier’s physical health, but their mental health as well.
Times are ever-changing and fear of the unknown future has led to increases in depression symptoms as people are isolated during this time due to restrictions designed to limit the transmission of the virus. Leaders, mental health professionals and chaplains are encouraging Soldiers, their families, all Department of Defense civilians, and contractors to seek help if needed.
“The biggest myth is that getting help is a sign of weakness,” said Col. Chip Huey, the command chaplain of 3rd Infantry Division. “It absolutely is not.”
There are many resources available to anyone that may find themselves needing help to deal with the new normal facing the world. Division leaders feel that a Soldier's first stop should be able to be their chain of command.
“I believe that the relationship between Soldiers and their chain of command is extremely important,” said Maj. Erika Zavyalov, the 3rd Infantry Division psychiatrist. “ A good flow of information and trust built between both enhances mission readiness.”
Leaders are the best source to obtain information when a Soldier feels like they may be in crisis. They can help guide the Soldier to the appropriate support channel and intervene in a timely manner.
“Trust is essential, whether it be with their healthcare provider or chain of command,” said Zavyalov. “ Trust is built on transparency, honesty and a willingness to help.”
If Soldiers are not comfortable consulting their chain of command or they do not have any clinical need for behavioral health, they are able to access other avenues of support.
“The reason why Soldiers would want to come and talk with a chaplain versus a chain of command representative I think, is confidentiality,” said Huey. “When a Soldier or Family member comes and talks with the chaplain, what they talk about is completely confidential. No one can force us to reveal what went on in a counseling session.”
Confidentiality is important for any Soldier that isn’t comfortable discussing a personal matter with members of their unit.
“Do not allow yourself to become isolated,” Huey said. “Come get some help, do not suffer in silence.”
Chaplains provide non-denominational counseling to Soldiers and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If Soldiers would like to speak to someone of their own denomination, chaplains have the ability to pair them with whoever they would feel most comfortable.
For service members and other beneficiaries that prefer nonspiritual and confidential counseling, they can visit with Military and Family Life Counselors. According to Military One Source, the MFLC program supports service members, their Families and survivors with non-medical counseling worldwide, which include relationships, crisis intervention, stress management, grief, occupational and other individual and Family issues.
Service members are able to pick the time and location of the meeting, as long as there are no high risk factors and the sessions remain confidential. High risk factors could include suicidal ideations or threats to harm others.
For Soldiers who may need a more clinical approach, they have the option to talk to a medically-trained professional. Mental health officials note that neither rank or service status can preclude the need for support.
“From personal experience, I have seen leaders at all levels who have sought care and wished they had not waited for so long,” said Zavyalov.
Winn Army Community Hospital offers many behavioral health services for Soldiers and their Families. They provide psychiatric, clinical psychology and social work services to maintain the mental health of active duty military personnel, their Families and other beneficiaries. The various clinics include Child and Family, Embedded Behavioral Health Clinic, Family Advocacy Program, Intensive Out-Patient and Multi-Disciplinary.
In addition to the many services offered by the hospital, each brigade is also equipped with their own embedded Behavioral Health Clinics to assist Soldiers.
Lastly, Soldiers always have the option of using their local emergency room or contacting 911 for any medical emergency they may be experiencing.
The Marne Division and the entire Army strive to provide stable support networks for Soldiers during these tumultuous and challenging times.
“You are not alone,” assured Chaplain Huey. “We will welcome you in. We can meet with you virtually. We can meet with you in person and we can chat telephonically.”