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Care for mental health like any other health issue

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- It's time for you to do your mock physical fitness assessment and you only get 73 percent. What would you do? If you're like most Airmen who want to pass their test, you go to a gym and do strength training, maybe get on the treadmill or go outside to start improving your run time.

You may take a class at the Health and Wellness Center or at the clinic to learn healthy lifestyle changes, eat better, stop smoking or lose weight. Whatever it is you choose to do, most of us would go somewhere and do something to push ourselves to become more physically fit so we can be mission ready.

If you're a spiritual person and you want to nurture that spirituality, what would you do? Some may go to a church, a synagogue, a temple, or a mosque. Others may feel more connected in nature and may seek to feed their spirituality outdoors. Some read religious or spiritual books to discover more about their faith or find purpose. We have a chapel on base that can serve as a possible option to meet these needs, even if only used occasionally for special observations that occur during your workday.

When you move to a new base and you don't know anyone, what would you do? There are a lot of different ways to socialize these days. You could move on base to meet other military members and their families, contact Outdoor Recreation and sign up for a group outing, socialize with people in your work center, volunteer at a community event, or use social networking to find out about activities and possibly meet people who share your interests.

So, if you were feeling depressed, anxious, or exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, what would you do? Some would try to pretend that it wasn't happening and refuse to tell anyone. Some would be fearful that if they told their supervisor or first sergeant what was going on that they would be looked at differently. Some would even be fearful that going to the mental health clinic for an evaluation might "end their military career." Others would make a call and schedule an appointment to meet with a trained professional who could assess their symptoms and help them understand what was happening.

Hopefully you would be the person to do the latter. Going to the mental health clinic does not, in and of itself, make you non-deployable, have your weapon removed, or mean that you will be involuntarily separated from the military.

Providers in mental health do not automatically contact your commander if you are active duty. In fact, if you happen to be active duty, coming to the mental health clinic could actually save your military career.

Not coming to the mental health clinic and letting a small problem become bigger could have adverse effects on your ability to perform your duties. If you are having difficulty concentrating because you aren't sleeping at night, if you're irritable, experiencing bouts of uncontrolled anger, coming to work late because you can't motivate yourself to get out of bed, you could face disciplinary action and potentially an administrative discharge, possibly even a bad conduct discharge. But if you seek help when symptoms start having an impact on your daily activities, you could get the treatment you need to manage your symptoms or eliminate them completely.

Comprehensive Airmen Fitness is about every Airman taking care of their mental, physical, spiritual and social fitness. As an Air Force, we have no problem taking care of our physical, spiritual, and social fitness, but there is a veil over taking care of our mental fitness. Let's reduce the stigma of going to the mental health clinic by supporting each other in seeking the help that is medically indicated. Yes, medically indicated.

Mental health providers are medical providers who are credentialed and given privileges to practice in the medical treatment facility. So, just like going to your primary care manager to treat high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you should come to the mental health clinic to treat mental health symptoms. If you are in need of services, you can call 256-7386 to schedule an appointment or walk-in during normal clinic hours in the 375th Medical Group.

If you aren't sure that your symptoms rise to the level of needing mental health services, you can always contact the Chapel for confidential counseling or contact the Military Family Life Consultants at the Airman and Family Readiness Center for help with non-medical counseling issues. There are also MFLC services available for youth or parents of youth who are struggling with mental health issues.