Army’s Committment To Mental Health Care & Prevention Of Suicides
May 31, 2008
On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of participating in the Bloggers Roundtable discussion on Behavioral Health & Suicide Prevention. Speakers for the discussion were Lt. Co. Thomas E. Languirand, Chief of Command Policies and Programs Division, Chaplain (Col) Charles D. Reese, Office of the Chief of Chaplains and Col. Elspeth Ritchie, Psychiatric consultant to the Army Surgeon General.
LTC Languirand opened the discussion by saying that the Army values the well-being of it’s Soldiers and their Families. He emphasized that the Army is committed to them by ensuring that they can learn to increase their coping skills. The Army is committed to addressing the risk factors and to remove the stigma that is associated with seeking mental health care for problems. LTC Languirand stressed that the Army feels that even one suicide is one suicide too many and the Army is actively pursuing educational means and interventions that they hope will decrease the number of suicides in the military. Things that are being used, such as the Army’s Battlemind Training, are being utilized prior to and following deployments. That training as well is being offered to family members. The training is designed to teach Soldiers and their family members to recognize signs of problems, so that they can encourage each other and their family members to seek help when necessary. I’ve reviewed the Battlemind Training for Soldiers as well as the training for Family members and it’s definately a step in the right direction. The hope is that by teaching Soldiers what to look out for in each other and teaching Family members what to look for with their Soldiers returning from downrange, they can help in the prevention of suicides and other mental health problems. It’s great training and I encourage anyone who has contact with Soldiers to go to the Army Battlemind Training Website and utilize the information that is provided there.
Chaplain (Col) Reese then explained the role of Chaplains in suicide prevention and mental health care, saying that they offer religious and spiritual support for Soldiers and their Families. Chaplains also provide Soldiers and their Family members assistance with learning coping skills both during and after deployments. When units deploy downrange, Chaplains deploy with them, to offer their support with the myriad of difficulties that can arise during the deployment. Chaplains are also an essential piece in dealing with routine and crisis situations and they are the primary trainers in the Army for suicide prevention.
The last speaker, Col. Ritchie spoke in length about the ways in which the Army is working to expand their intensive out-patient programs, in order to ensure that Soldiers and their Family members have the assistance available to them that is necessary. She went on to mention the Holistic approaches that are beginning to be utilized in the treatment of PTSD, in suicide prevention and the treatment of TBI’s. There are several pilot programs in place, such as the Restoration and Resilience Center in Fort Bliss that I’ve reported about in the past. As you may recall, the program at Fort Bliss, utilizes alternative medicine, such as yoga, meditation, martial arts, qigong, reiki and accupuncture, to name a few. A similar program is in place at Walter Reed. Col. Ritchie stated that at this time, the programs are in the research stages and that they’re watching closely to monitor their results in the programs. Col. Ritchie also mentioned programs being conducted utilizing Virtual Reality in Fort Sill, Ok., Ft. Lewis, Wash. and at Walter Reed. Having read extensively about these programs and the successes they’ve had so far, I’m pretty impressed and feel that both of the programs bear watching, as programs that may prove extremely successful in treating Soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI’s.
Col. Ritchie stressed that the Army is actively looking to expand the number of mental health providers. They are also looking at increasing the number of Tricare providers and are working to help educate civilian providers and expand their knowledge base to better treat Soldiers suffering from PTSD. Efforts are also underway to educate primary care providers on how to treat PTSD.
The floor was open for discussion and many great questions were asked and answered. One participant had concerns about a Soldier seeking mental health help and staff at emergency rooms not picking up on signs of depression. Col. Ritchie responded by saying that Soldiers who are exhibiting signs of mental health problems are seen in the military emergency rooms by mental health workers and those problems are being addressed in the emergency rooms. She did admit that no system is perfect and that occasionally someone who may not vocalize that they’re experiencing depression or looking to harm themselves, may not be recognized, that they are working hard to ensure that no one needing mental health care falls through the cracks.
Mental Health care in Iraq and Afghanistan were addressed as well, with the participant asking if Soldiers were being prescribed anti-depressants downrange without being fully diagnosed with depression. Col. Ritchie assurred that mental health providers are in theater and are thoroughly evaluating patients to ensure that they receive the appropriate care. Evaluations used in theater are the same as evaluations utilized in the states. She stressed that providers understand the importance of correct diagnosis prior to prescribing medication.
The last question addressed the stigma of a Soldier seeking mental health help and how the Army was addressing that to ensure that Soldiers aren’t stigmatized when asking for help. Col. Ritchie stated that the military as a whole is dedicated to ensuring that the stigma is removed and the DoD has taken the lead to ensure that by revising the questionnaire for national security positions, patrticulary question 21. The revised question, she said, now excludes non-court-ordered counseling related to marital, family or grief issues, or counseling for issues related to military service in a combat zone. Another step is educating Soldiers and leadership on the importance of seeking help that the Army is actively pursuing. They are also working to ensure that leadership encourages Soldiers who need help with mental health issues, such as PTSD or depression, to seek that help and not stigmatize the Soldier when they do seek help.
This roundtable discussion was very informative and highlighted the many avenues the Army is actively taking to ensure that our Soldiers and their Family members receive the best care possible as quickly as possible.