Mental, physical health equally important

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Cece Sutton
  • 22nd Medical Operations Squadron
Our country reeled two weeks ago at the report of the worst mass slaying by an individual in U.S. In a week which also held the "anniversaries" of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrha building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, many are asking the questions "Why did this tragedy happen on the campus of Virginia Tech?" and "Can the same thing happen here at McConnell?" The answer lies in our ability to identify potential problems in our members early.

As a healthy and fit force, we dutifully line up for immunizations, dental exams and physical health assessments. Our physical well-being is always subject to question and annually tested during the fitness testing cycle, but what about our mental health? The Air Force does not have, or require annual mental health fitness assessments. We must rely on self reporting and concerned Wingmen to actively engage individuals with potential mental health issues.

The results of the Pentagon's Task Force on Mental Health are due to the Department of Defense in May. Early results from this study show that despite our efforts, the stigma of seeking help with mental health care problems continues to exist. Active-duty military members fear losing their careers if they seek out mental health care. The reality is that very few Airmen experience a negative career impact when seeking mental health treatment; and when they do, the impact is most often temporary. On the contrary, seeking mental health assistance most often enhances military job performance and personal and social well-being.

We must begin seeing and treating our servicemembers as whole beings. The health of mind, body and soul, collectively, are what make our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines the best fighting force in the world. In the face of force shaping initiatives, deployments and the requirement that everyone give more, leadership at all levels has a duty to ensure the overall health of our forces. Additionally, every Airman has a role to play in identifying co-workers who appear stressed, troubled or depressed.

The Air Force is a family. To perform the mission we need strong unit cohesion, and that means being good wingmen to one another! Only together can we remain healthy and fit to fight.