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Deployed preventive health series: Strengthening mental health on a deployment

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Carlos J. Treviño
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

When you pass by what looks like a small home in the Coalition Compound by the 24-hour-coffee-shop, you will see the words ‘mental health’ on the barrier with a the mythical phoenix flying out of fire. Some service members might have the wrong idea that a visit to the mental health clinic will ruin their career, but the 379th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron mental health clinic team is trained to help deployed members learn the skills to stay in the fight.


“The purpose behind the phoenix on the barrier is because it represents regeneration, rebirth and often healing,” said Staff Sgt. Nickolas Widtfeldt, 379th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron mental health technician. “We hope that those who come to our clinic leave with an improved sense of self and a greater perspective on life, thereby, in a metaphorical sense, being reborn.”


Every deployed service member and coalition partner here serves a role in supporting critical regional airpower goals. However, when they suffer from a mental health problem, their ability to work can be adversely compromised and may even limit their ability to support the combat mission.


“As we all know, there are a lot of stressors in a deployed environment,” said Capt. (Dr.) Ryan Dumke, 379th EMDOS clinical psychologist. “Deployment can accentuate a lot of that, especially if this is your first time. Maybe things are happening back home that are tough to deal with or maybe you had a history of difficulty handling things.”


The mental health clinic, which is staffed by only four Airmen, treats and supports nearly 170 members from both Team AUAB and Camp As Sayliyah every month to ensure deployed personnel remain mission ready.


Dumke compared mental health to physical health. “All these things can be treated,” he said. “If you broke your leg you would go get it treated.”


With that in mind, he says the mental health clinic is where a patient would go for treatment as well.


The mental health team treats their patients to help them heal by teaching them coping skills to overcome their problems. Additionally, Capt. Tyrone Simon, 379th EMDOS clinical social worker, ensures that mental health visits do not have negative ramifications towards service members’ careers.


“They think that if they go to mental health, they’ll be labeled as crazy or they’re going to get kicked out of the military, and that’s not true,” Simon said. “A lot of the people we see are on a short-term basis, like three to five visits.”


In addition, the mental health team conducts site visits through their outreach program and encourages questions about the services.


“We do a lot of outreach because we think prevention is important,” he added. “We want to limit those problems before they become bigger.”


Below is a list of preventative mental health tips the mental health clinic here suggests to deployed service members.


1. Take care of yourself by engaging in healthy activities.

2. Develop healthy routines, especially for sleep.

3. "Plug in" to your deployment and don’t count the days!

4. Try to set personal goals during your deployment, i.e. fitness, professional development, reading, finances, etc.

5. Take advantage of activities on base.  

6. Develop a support network with other deployed members, in addition to family and friends back home. 


“If you don't deal with your stress, learn techniques and skills for managing your anxiety or depression,” Dumke said. “It’s going get worse and it’s going start impacting your ability to live your life, do your job and be with your family; don't let it get to that point.”


According to Simon, the goal at the end of the day is to give individuals the skills they need to get better and get them back out to the fight.


For more information about mental health support programs, call the mental health clinic at 455-5227 or visit them during their operating hours from 0800-1800 Monday through Friday and 0800-1700 on the weekend.