New name, same service: Life Skills changes name to better reflect mission

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
Robins Life Skills Support Center recently changed its name to Mental Health as part of an Air Force-wide initiative aimed to clarify the clinic's mission.

The change took effect immediately at life skills support centers throughout the service branch.

After a poll of subject matter experts, first sergeants, command chief master sergeants, and mental health patients, it was determined that the name "life skills" was confusing and did not appropriately reflect the mission of providing mental health services.

Col. Jim McClain, commander of the 78th Medical Group, said the change clarifies the clinic's identity across the service.

"It's going to bring standardization in how we title our services in relation to what the Air Force does, what the other services do, and what's also done in the local community," he said.

Lt. Col. Chris Robinson, commander of the 78th Medical Operations Squadron, agreed.

"I think it's definitely going to help clarify the services that we provide," he said. "I know the Air Staff looked at this real closely and there wasn't much support for the life skills support center name. This also standardizes us and puts us in line with other services because other services were calling their mental health clinics 'mental health clinics' and not 'life skills.'"

Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz, senior psychology policy analyst for the Air Force surgeon general, said for some, the name 'life skills' didn't give an accurate picture of its role.

"To most people, and particularly to professionals, 'life skills' refers to youth programs and services for the developmentally disabled," he said. "Traditionally, 'life skills' refers to teaching people how to get dressed, prepare meals, or balance a checkbook, not psychotherapy."

Colonel Pflanz said now, people can find the help they need more easily.

"Airmen seeking counseling wouldn't necessarily think to go to the life skills support center," he said. "Likewise, when an off-base mental health professional wanted to speak with their on-base counterpart, they were confused when they were referred to the life skills support center."

The name 'mental health' was used prior to 2001, but was changed to 'life skills' to combat the stigma associated with seeking and receiving mental health care, Colonel Pflanz said.

"But changing the name alone doesn't eliminate the stigma," he said. "Stigma is best addressed through ongoing education efforts. Changing deeply held societal beliefs about mental health care takes time."

Despite popular belief, only a small percentage of Airmen who seek mental health care actually experience adverse career outcomes or even unit notification of treatment, Colonel Pflanz said.

"The Air Force medical service must constantly work to overcome barriers associated with seeking treatment for behavioral and emotional problems," said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Charles Bruce Green, the Air Force deputy surgeon general. "To address the concerns of Airmen about seeking treatment for mental health issues, it should be clear that privacy is the norm when their issue does not represent a danger to themselves, the mission, or others."

In fact, Colonel Robinson said 97 percent of the time, Airmen visits to the clinic do not result in adverse actions. Ninety percent of the time, an Airman's unit is not notified of clinic visits.

While the clinic's name change will be accomplished at other Air Force installations within a few months, Robins has already begun changing its signs on base to reflect the new name.

(Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)