Don't buy the stigma; don't suffer in silence

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Vanessa Berrio
  • 78th Medical Group Mental Health Flight

If you’re injured or sick, where do you go?  Presumably, your answer is to your primary care provider since you know they can help you.

But, if you know or suspect you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or stressed, would you go see your primary care provider?

Maybe you thought about going to Mental Health, but quickly discarded the idea.

Why is that? If you weren’t mentally or emotionally feeling well, wouldn’t you want to go and see the ones who could aid you in feeling better? So many don’t get help due to the perceived stigma attached to seeking Mental Health Services.

I hear it all the time. “I didn’t want to be labeled.”; “I’m not crazy.”; “I didn’t want my career to be impacted.”Why does that strong stigma exists? The people who walk through the doors at Mental Health are certainly not “crazy.”

Look beside you. That’s exactly what our patients look like. No one should ever be negatively viewed for seeking help. Instead people should be recognized for their strength and courage for coming into Mental Health. Stigma is causing some of our populace to suffer in silence. Many walk into the clinic in total distress, identifying how they’ve been dealing with issues for years.

It’s truly sad to hear their stories, and they didn’t seek help due to fear of being labeled.

Don’t carry that burden. Don’t suffer in silence when we’re here and willing to help.

Some people may be concerned about perceived negative consequences of coming to Mental Health, specifically confidentiality. In the large majority of mental health cases, the member’s unit or chain-of-command are never aware that the individual was seen. However, there are a few rare situations that require us to make a notification. Those disclosures include imminent plans to harm yourself or others, domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, and engagement in serious UCMJ violations. 

The current battle we’re facing related to stigma is our new deployment clearance process, which requires waivers be submitted for members with certain mental health history. That doesn’t mean you can’t deploy if you’ve evers been seen in mental health. Depending on your mental health history, a waiver may have to be submitted pausing your clearance for deployment until the waiver is approved.

Out of all the submitted deployment waivers since June 2015, all but one has been approved. If a deployment would exacerbate a current mental health condition or significantly impede treatment of an ongoing mental health issue, the member would not likely be medically cleared for deployment. Instead they would complete their treatment to get better and return to the field.   

The Air Force is in the business of taking care of people, and the mission of the mental health clinic is to provide the treatment needed to resolve any mental health concerns so that members can return to duty.

Mental Health is there to aid in this process and we can’t do that if there’s false information about the frequency of negative career ramification being spread. Remember, it could be someone you’re close with and you wouldn’t want them to suffer in silence due to false claims.

As our flight chant says, “Mental Health, WE AIN’T CRAZY.”