ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Behavioral health experts and APG leaders discussed stigmatization and social connectedness during the second annual Mental Health Symposium at the Mallette Auditorium, May 2, 2023. The Commander’s Ready and Resilient Council hosted the hybrid event for National Mental Health Awareness Month for an in-person and virtual audience via Microsoft Teams.
Maj. Gen. Robert L. Edmonson II, APG senior commander and commanding general of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, provided opening remarks about the importance of behavioral health.
“Emotional, mental fitness, social connectedness and holistic resilience [are] all a part of a healthy lifestyle. [May is] National Mental Health Awareness Month; it’s not just a month or a day, but it’s an opportunity for us to calibrate and to focus ourselves.”
Edmonson compared mental ailments to physical ailments, encouraging those hurting not to be afraid to ask for help.
“There is nothing wrong with saying you need help; there’s strength in vulnerability,” he said.
Edmonson’s final words were a call-to-action for the APG workforce, imploring them to seek out others and to be there for them.
Lt. Col. Melissa Boyd, a board-certified clinical psychologist and behavioral health advisor for the Defense Center’s Public Health-Aberdeen was the symposium’s first guest speaker.
Boyd discussed the importance of an individual’s support system and network of friends, family, battle buddies and leadership. She said this support system plays an important role in whether a person seeks behavioral health resources or wellness.
Boyd presented research that seeking help does not harm career trajectory.
“Sometimes [the service member] being treated will be removed from all their duties or given a light load. I believe that’s the wrong answer,” she said. “It’s so important to be meaningfully engaged and to feel purposeful, even while you have a behavioral health concern or struggle.”
Boyd offered a list of behavioral health services before giving the floor to Miguel Sierra, suicide prevention program manager of the Army Substance Abuse Program – Directorate of Human Resources.
Behavioral health services for military service members:
- Unit Ministry and Religious Support Teams
- Army Wellness Center
- Military OneSource
- Military & Family Life Counseling
Community resources for behavioral health:
- Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers
- U.S. Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation
- Army Community Service
Sierra highlighted the role of leadership when it comes to de-stigmatizing and normalizing mental health.
“No matter how effective I am, it will never be as powerful as when your leadership speaks [up] and lets you know it’s okay to get help,” he said.
Chaplain (Col.) Tim Ryu, command chaplain of CECOM and APG senior discussed the role of chaplains in the domain of mental health for service members and their families.
“Chaplains are the service members’ or family members’ first point of contact in times of crisis, regardless of their religious or nonreligious affiliation,” he said.
After Ryu, the symposium’s keynote speaker, Dr. Aaron M. Jacoby, director of the Mental Health Clinical Center of Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System, spoke about the suicide epidemic.
Jacoby’s presentation revealed that suicide rates in the nation were increasing, and the highest rates were seen in older, white men. The most common method of suicide is by firearms, he said.
Jacoby explained suicide assessment strategies and treatment interventions. He provided a list of protective factors: subjective reasons for living, removal of lethal means, daily social contacts, responsibilities for dependent others, availability of treating clinician, family support, access to timely mental health assessment and treatment, hope and resilience.
For VAMHCS mental health resources, visit: https://www.va.gov/maryland-health-care/health-services/#specialty-care.
To enroll at VAMHCS, visit: https://www.va.gov/health-care/how-to-apply/.
Jacoby was then joined by the other guest speakers to hold a question-and-answer panel, accepting questions from the in-person and online audience.
The event concluded with closing remarks from APG Garrison Commander Col. Johnny M. Casiano.
“The last thing I want to highlight [are] these four words: authenticity, tone, touch points and teamwork,” he said. “When you as a leader go into [everyday] situations, [you] have this rubric. Make certain that you create opportunities for touch points across the installation, across your organization; make it known to people that approach you.”
Contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for 24/7, free and confidential support: 988. For more information about the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, visit: https://988lifeline.org/.
For more photos of the event, view them at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usagapg/albums/72177720308006440/with/52869753051/.