FORT KNOX, Ky. — May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and one Army health expert shared the many different ways Soldiers and their Families can find help when they need it.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports one in five adults have experienced a mental health issue. It also states suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
As these numbers have steadily increased in recent years, Ireland Army Health Clinic Department of Behavioral Health Chief Laura Johnson emphasized the importance of recognizing just how stressful everyone’s lives can be.
“We power through so many things,” said Johnson. “Our lives are so fast-paced. We need to be able to stop, take a moment and ask ourselves, ‘What do I need?’”
Although mental health problems are common within society as a whole, Johnson pointed out service members and their Families are especially prone to situations that add mental strain. She said on a scale of stressful life experiences, military Families often face some of the most difficult.
“There are a lot of unique stressors that come with the part of the job that involves relocating frequently,” said Johnson. “Everything we’re asking service members to do are on the high-end of stress — and those pressures mount.”
According to Johnson, one of the most difficult mental health hurdles to overcome for service members is ironically woven into the military fabric.
“There’s usually a ‘power through it’ philosophy,” said Johnson. “It usually takes something pretty significant to get someone to see a doctor for even a physical ailment — so with a mental health issue or concern, there’s a stigma that it’s seen as a profound sense of failure if they can’t keep their mental health afloat — when in reality, it’s chemistry.”
Johnson said she understands why it can be difficult for some service members to seek behavioral health care or even talk about the problems they may be experiencing, but there are alternatives.
“I never want to discourage anyone from coming to Mental Health,” said Johnson. “I think sometimes people wait until it’s so far down the road that we are exactly the right resource, but what if they had started with the Army Wellness Center or the chaplain?”
Johnson said in addition to those two resources, there are ways military Families can reach out for help without, in fact, reaching out; it’s as simple as logging onto the internet.
“Military OneSource is a great resource,” said Johnson. “That is a wonderful place where you can find a list of apps that are great for [mental health] awareness and self-help. They’re very supportive if that’s what you need, and also very illuminating.”
Johnson urged not only service members to take advantage of the many mental health resources available but their dependents, as well. She specifically mentioned the burden many spouses bear that can be difficult to cope with – something she understands all too well.
“There is a profound amount of grief that we as spouses carry with us,” said Johnson. “We don’t give ourselves the opportunity to say, ‘This is too hard, and I need some help.’ We’re so busy trying to keep ourselves together. I think that’s the most stressful part.”
In addition to the many stressors they face, spouses can also fall into another mental health trap.
“I think we have these really largely impossible standards that we hold ourselves to that we would never hold our best friend to,” said Johnson. “We need to treat ourselves fairly.”
Social media is one of the biggest reasons people set those impossible standards, according to Johnson. She recommended that spouses log in less often to avoid constantly measuring life against what’s being posted by others.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Johnson. “You’re comparing your back story to everybody else’s highlight reel.”
Two main mental health recommendations Johnson offers military Families are to seek help from the many resources offered before things get really rough, and cut themselves some slack.
“My daughter sent me a meme the other day and it said, ‘Showing up: what I think it means,’ and it had all these full circles,” said Johnson. “Then it said, ‘What it really means’ and one is half full, one is a quarter full, and so on.
“We think that every day we need to show up and give 100% to everything. You can’t do that physically. We need to give ourselves grace — and that’s okay.”