NEWS | Dec. 8, 2010

Mental health through military fitness

By Airman Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The holidays are a time to celebrate, but can be very stressful.

Waiting in line, heel-to-toe for the perfect gift, hoping it's not sold out. Jumping from flight to flight and having to put up with the long lines and airport security. Red holiday lights - a reminder of bumper to bumper traffic.

Not to mention watching the bank account rapidly deplete, and knowing dad won't make it to dinner because he is currently deployed, a person can only handle so much.

The 2010 holiday season will come and go, but what about all that stress?

"Short term stress can easily build up and become a more serious problem if not handled with initially," said Master Sgt. Stephen Boice, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Mental Health Flight and the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program.

Thus, mental fitness is one of the four pillars in Comprehensive Airman Fitness. Here in Charleston, it's not just for Airmen, but for the military as a whole because service members and families put up with a lot of stress, that if not handled with properly can take its toll.

Mental fitness is considered one of the most important parts of health and is closely related to physical fitness, according to base mental health professionals.

"Body and mind are interconnected," said Maj. Patrick Pohle, Mental Health Flight commander, who is the Community Action Information Board executive director. "When you exercise, your body releases endorphins and you start feeling better."

Like physical fitness, mental fitness has some of the same rules.

"You need to make sure you are eating right," Sergeant Boice said. "When you skip meals it impacts your mood."

Cortisol, a stress hormone, starts pumping through a person's body when stressed, Sergeant Boice said. It affects the different chemicals in the brain and can have an impact on overall mood.

"When you get stressed, the first thing you should do is exercise," Sergeant Boice said. "It burns off those stress hormones that can affect your sleep, appetite and mood."

Just like there are coaches for physical fitness, there are some for mental fitness as well. At the Mental Health Clinic there are professionals that can help with individual counseling and group counseling.

"We have people come in for short term stress in their lives, family issues, work related issues, anxiety and depression," said Sergeant Boice. "You are going to have stress in your life, and you're going to have times when you're just not feeling well. That's what we're here for."

Some people are afraid to come to the MHC, Sergeant Boice said.

"What they don't know is that privacy is our upmost concern for our patients." Sergeant Boice said. "The records we keep here stay here. They are only reported up the chain of command if they are life threatening or against the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

Even if a person is uncomfortable with the MHC there are other services offered such as chaplains, Military One Source and Military Family and Life Consultants who can help.

"Speaking to a MFLC is an informal way for a person to cope with relationship problems, workplace issues and everyday stress," said Flora Hoss-Masson, director of the Military and Family Readiness Center. "There is no documentation or records kept, but all consultants are licensed clinicians."

MFLCs work around a person's schedule and can meet on base or off base.

"Sometimes they meet with people on the walking trails," Ms. Hoss-Masson said. "The only place a consultant can't meet you, is at your home."

There are many ways to deal with stress, Sergeant Boice said, but what's important is going in and talking to someone, regardless of who it is.

There is help available for anyone that wants it, but what about those coworkers, friends or family members who ignore they have a problem? Don't be afraid to stand up, Sergeant Boice said.

"If you are worried about the way someone has been acting, express your concerns he said. "Approach it gently and don't put someone on the defensive. Especially when it comes to suicide, don't expect someone else to do it for you and don't let it be too late."

(This is the second story in a nine-part series on Comprehensive Airman Fitness.)

Mental Health Clinic services
Individual counseling
Group counseling
Marital counseling
Psychiatry
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment
Family Advocacy Clinic
New Parent Support program
Stress management
Sleep health
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder classes
Post deployment briefings

Contact Information
Mental Health Clinic - 963-6852
Military Family Life Consultants - 609-8718
Child and Youth Behavioral Program - 693-8527