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Keeping Airmen mentally fit to fight

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Everyone has stress in their lives, whether it's from work, family or otherwise, and everyone has different ways to manage that stress. The way someone copes with stress can be an indicator of mental fitness. Unfortunately, many people worry about their mental health only after there are problems affecting their careers.

According to Tech. Sgt. Jason Norberg, 21st Medical Group noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, when people become too stressed they often isolate themselves and let the tension grow -- a recipe for disaster.

There is a perceived stigma around reaching out to the Mental Health Clinic for help. But according to Norberg, 97 percent of Airmen who seek help from mental health see no negative impact on their careers. As for the 3 percent who do see an impact, Norberg said most of the time their career was in trouble before mental health came into the picture.

"Their problems get out of control, they don't know how to deal with them, so they cope with them in negative ways and those negative ways get them in trouble with their command," he said. "If they would have seen (mental health) before they let things get out of control, it would have been a much different outcome."

The third pillar of the Comprehensive Airman Fitness campaign is mental health.

Mental health offers a variety of resources for Airmen and their families. Classes are available for both new parents and parents of older children. There is even a class called "How to not Marry a Jerk or Jerkette," and alcohol treatment programs through the Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program. Counseling services are available for single Airmen and married couples and there's psychiatric treatment available for service members and their families who might need a prescription.

For those who are still not convinced mental health is the right choice for them, there are several other options. Non-documented and free counseling services are available through the Military and Family Life Consultant and Military OneSource.

The chaplains also offer counseling services to those seeking help. The chaplains are often a popular choice for a listening ear because they have privileged communication, meaning everything is 100 percent confidential, and nothing they hear can be reported.

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Tim Porter, 21st Space Wing chaplain, said the chaplains provide a safe place for people to go.

"They may be trying to figure out how they really feel about something and they could say things they don't mean," he said.

The chaplains often refer people to mental health, especially if they hear someone is thinking of hurting themselves, but it is up to the individual whether they go or not.

"I don't like being their only line of support," said Porter. "A lot of times I'll try to encourage them to reach out to mental health and a lot of times they will."

There are lots of ways Airmen can mitigate stress in their everyday lives. Norberg said his first suggestion is to exercise.

"It's probably one of the best things you can do for physical health as well as mental health," he said. "You feel better, you release endorphins, you sleep better, you eat better."

Porter's number one stress buster is prayer.

"I pray on my way to work about what I know is coming up for the day. I usually read a devotional or I'll read a section of scripture in the morning and do some journaling. That's one thing I know works for me," he said.

Everyone has their own hobbies and activities that help keep stress at bay, and Norberg said whatever those are, don't give them up.

"If you like going out fishing on the weekends, go fish on the weekends. If you like playing video games, listening to music, meditating -- all those things are beneficial. If you enjoy it, it's probably pretty good for you," he said.

Civilians on base are not immune to stress. Counseling services for civilians are also available through the chapel and through the Military and Family Life Consultant.

To make an appointment to speak with a counselor or chaplain, call mental health at 556-7804, the chaplain at 556-4442, Military OneSource at 800-342-9647, or the Military and Family Life Consultant at (719) 640-9961.

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