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Warrior Health: seeking resources to stay mentally fit

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Mental health is an important part of overall wellness. If the life stressers are overwhelming, seek help from teh resources available to you, whether it's your friends, fmaily or the professionals at the mental health clinic. U.S. Air Force graphic by Jeff Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Mental health is an important part of overall wellness. If life stressors are overwhelming, people should seek help from many resources available to them, whether it's friends, family or the professionals at the mental health clinic. U.S. Air Force graphic by Jeff Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- "Men are not prisoners of fate, but prisoners of their own minds." -Franklin D. Roosevelt

With new Air Force physical training standards recently taking effect and an evolving fitness culture, focus is often placed on performance of physical strength and stamina.

However, for a healthy whole-person concept, military members and their families should also turn their attention to their mental health, said Master Sgt. Donald Reynolds, a certified personal trainer and 55th Wing career assistance advisor.

"The mind controls the body," said Sergeant Reynolds, a certified personal trainer and the career assistance advisor here said. "We commonly refer to 'health' when we talk about our physical bodies and 'wellness' when we refer to our minds. But when physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellness aren't working together in harmonious balance, we will usually notice right away. Your mental state is the key to all of it."

Military members and their families shoulder a lot of responsibility that isn't one dimensional, and their well-being and health shouldn't be either, said Sergeant Reynolds.

Maj. Thomas Magee, chief of the mental health clinic here, would like all Team Offutt members to know that not only are the stereotypes of the mental health clinic wrong, but what he and his staff can teach and help with is vital to a healthy fighting force.

"There are so many aspects of life we have no control over as military members," said Major Magee, "and the majority of the issues people have when they come see us are because they need help regaining control in their lives."

Between deployments, long hours, physical fitness, financial issues and dealing with family, people can start to feel like the weight of stress is overpowering the major said.

"A healthy mind includes self-awareness," said Major Magee. "Know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Know what resources you need to put yourself in situations to be successful."

One of the major resources available to Team Offutt members and their families is the mental health clinic.

"The mental health clinic is a place where someone can find subject matter experts who can help effectively and efficiently manage the particular problem he or she is facing and then you move on with your life," said the major.

They offer individual outpatient treatment, which are traditional hour-long therapy sessions. There are also group sessions or interventions and psycho-educational classes that cover topics such as stress and anger management, and healthy thinking.

"Some people find a lot of value in being able to talk to a group of people who have similar situations to their own," said Major Magee. "They can help each other as well as help themselves."

The classes -- which are akin to briefings -- give participants specific things to do to help manage life. The healthy thinking class helps people understand that we are creatures of habit, said Major Magee. "We tend to think in the same ways over and over. If we can understand the relationship between our habits in thinking and how we feel and what we do, we can break the cycle of destructive or unhealthy behavior."

One of the problems, according to Major Magee, is that there is a stigma associated with visiting the mental health clinic.

"People think it will adversely affect their career or that they will be labeled for talking to us," he said. "But if you look at the numbers, most of the people who come here are seen for a very discreet issue such as stress from a divorce or deployment, anxiety or depression. The average person is seen in mental health maybe three to five times and then they're back to doing whatever they do."

The reality, he said, is that everyone has some degree of pathology. If you think of mental health issues or bahaviors on a sliding continuum, one end is the complete absence of symptoms and the other being an excess of it. Most people fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum and based on what's happening in life at a given time, people get pushed up and down that scale. Part of the mental health clinic's job is to help their patients stay in the middle, he said.

"We do this through social support and by helping people continue to do the things that bring value and meaning into their lives," said Major Magee. "People who do what they love feel much better about life and it's a cascading affect.

"If you go fishing to relax, but you haven't been fishing in 12 years, it's no wonder you feel stressed out," said the major.

Besides the mental health clinic, Offutt offers many programs and opportunities for people to manage their stress and help control their mental health.

The base education office can help people get on track to earn a degree and assist with the financial details of going to school.

"We provide assistance to military members and their families in setting academic goals with our staff of education counselors, administer and review interest inventories and advise members on tuition assistance," said Lewis Valentine, chief of the education office. "We also provide CLEP and DANTES testing and provide access to numerous academic institutions, several of which have offices on base."

In addition to formal higher education, Team Offutt members can attend classes at the Airman and Family Readiness Center here to help with some of life's more stressful topics. They offer classes and workshops which include home and car buying seminars, Growing Your Money, a new parent support and education class, a resume workshop and a Smooth Move workshop to prepare for a permanent change of duty-station.

But most importantly, Major Magee would like everyone to know that seeking help isn't a sign of weakness.

"Using the resources available to you, whether it's your neighbor, your family or professional intervention, is a sign of strength," he said. (This is the second story in a three-part series on complete wellness.)