Healing The Operational Environment: Encouraging Mental Health Help-Seeking Behavior
Air War College, Air University Maxwell AFB United States
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The purpose of this professional studies paper is not to reinvent the multitude of existing mental health programs and tools available to squadron commanders. The intent is rather to refine the operating environment between the unit-level and base-level resources in an effort to debunk the stigma of help-seeking. The intent is also to increase awareness of the current mental health dilemma facing our post 911 force and to offer recommendations for commanders at multiple levels in order to create a climate that promotes greater mental health and wellness. I initially frame the problem by examining the percentage of overall Americans affected by mental illness. Then, I examine both the civilian and United States Air Force USAF suicide rates. I will demonstrate that suicide rates are a uniquely-useful indicator of problematic mental health issues particularly at times when mental health concerns may remain masked in many individuals due to social stigmas. I next discuss causal factors that reinforce the stigma surrounding help-seeking within the military. Additionally, I utilize the Comprehensive Airman Fitness programs effectiveness as an example of an existing strategic framework within the USAF that promotes a healthy balance within the mental, physical, social, and spiritual health of Airman. Lastly, I provide examples of recommend changes to the current operating environment, also referred to as work place environment. When combined with the existing commanders mental health toolkit these changes will build increased rapport between squadron members and mental health personnel. Moreover, this will more fully integrate mental health personnel within operational units. While there is no panacea, the intent is to continue to debunk the stigma associated with help-seeking, allowing our Airmen to maintain both a personal and professional balance in order to achieve their full warfighting potential.