Building resilience, options for improved psychological health key to preserving most precious resource: People

McGUIRE AIR FORCE BASE, N.J. -- With the number of warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and recent college shootings, community resiliency and mental health has become a national conversation. It's amazing how family and community networks come together and help each other. 

This network of community resources, including healthcare providers, school counselors, chaplains and others, quickly came together to help students, faculty, and families cope. The resiliency of those and the community was noteworthy. 

As the medical group commander, responsible for mental health services, integration of community resources, and the parent of a currently-enrolled student, the matter concerns me personally. It should concern you.

I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the importance of mental health and the resources the military provides to our valued servicemembers and their families. With the goal of increasing resiliency, reducing stigma, increasing early intervention, and providing needed support and treatment, a number of resources are available.

Most military hospitals and clinics offer a variety of mental-health options to identify and treat all stages of need, with dedicated mental health clinics and the integration of behavioral health consultants with primary care providers. Additionally, family members can seek assistance from civilian providers in the TRICARE network.

The completely anonymous, voluntary Mental Health Self Assessment Program can be a valuable early step in identification and treatment of mental health needs. The MHSAP offers self-assessment and re-assessment screenings, target educational materials and referrals when needed. The MHSAP is available online at www.militarymentalhealth.org or toll free via the MHSAP hotline at (877) 877-3647.

This year, the MHSAP added a new component -- the Signs of Suicide program for DoD schools. This program includes mental health training for our children and youth in DoD middle and high schools to increase awareness of such conditions as depression and signs of possible self-harm. It also includes educational materials for parents and teachers to help them recognize mental health concerns and how to take appropriate action.

Military OneSource (www.militaryonesource.com), chaplain services, and other installation support services such as community and family readiness centers can provide counseling, guidance, and referrals on many issues that affect returning servicemembers and their families. Additionally, vet centers established by the Department of Veterans Affairs provide a limited array of free counseling and other services to family members of combat veterans.

In addition to these resources, there are things each of us can do to increase our resiliency. Here are five tips from the American Psychological Association that can help you increase your resiliency:

1. Make connections - Keep in touch with family, friends and others. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resiliency. Some people find comfort in connecting with a higher power, whether through organized religion or privately.

2. Maintain a hopeful outlook - An optimistic and positive outlook enables you to see the good things in your life and can keep you going even in the hardest times. There are positive things in everyone's life, such as good health, a comfortable home, and strong friendships. Taking the time to identify and appreciate them will enhance your outlook and help you persevere.

3. Keep things in perspective - Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Remember that wars end, and circumstances can ultimately improve. Previous generations have faced war and gone on to prosper; use their examples to inspire you.

4. Take care of yourself - Make time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Schedule time for things you enjoy, such as hobbies and social activities. Caring for yourself will help you stay balanced and enable you to better deal with stressful times.

5. Nurture a positive view of yourself - Recall the ways you have successfully handled hardships in the past, such as the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or a major illness. Draw on these skills to meet current challenges.

As the medical group commander, my commitment is to ensure the total health of our servicemembers and their families, including their mental-health needs, are emphasized as a vital part of our force health protection mission.