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Taking care of stress, depression key to mission success

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- Changing duty stations can be a difficult task for many Airmen, but adding stress can make it even more challenging.

One avionics Airman related his experience after arriving at his new duty station stateside returning from overseas.

"When I arrived, I didn't really have any friends, so it was hard to adjust," he said.

Learning new processes for his job and not feeling part of the Air Force started adding more stress.

The squadron had about 25 military members, and the rest of the 1,500 employees in the squadron were civilians.

"It didn't even feel like I was in the military anymore," he said. "I basically didn't have anyone to really talk to at work."

On top of those already festering feelings, his friend of five years and her 18-year-old sister were killed in a car accident on their way from California to visit him. 

"I isolated myself," the Airman said. "I stopped going out and just stayed home in the dark. When I didn't have anything to do, I would just sleep."

He also started drinking more than normal while attempting to cope with his stress and now depression. He began to have mild thoughts of suicide.

"Sometimes I got the feeling of just wanting to run my car into something," he said.

Fortunately for this Airman, he was able to recognize that something critical was different. He knew the way he was acting wasn't normal or healthy, and turned to his supervisor for help. His supervisor suggested to visit the base mental health clinic and offered to go with him. The Airman attended a few sessions with a mental health representative and began the process of repair.

"All the military classes I have been through about depression and suicide are what helped me see that I needed help," the Airman said. "Hopefully, it will make me a better supervisor in the long run and I will be able to recognize these same signs in my troops and help them if or when they ever need it."

"Stress is a natural part of life," said 1st Lt. Janelle Weyer, 90th Medical Operations Squadron. "The way you respond to it is the determining factor."

With an increase of stress in the Air Force because of deployments and heavier workloads due to force shaping, the mental health clinic staff wants military members to know they are here to help.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about the clinic," said Glenn Garcia, 90th MDOS. "Airmen on the personal reliability program (or PRP) might think if they come to see us for help, it might impact their status or decertify them. It's not true. If someone has a problem or concern, they should take care of it immediately or it will be negatively revealed down the road."

Mr. Garcia said when Airmen are working with above-normal stress, they are only working at about 45 percent of their ability, and it can affect them in the workplace and at home.

"A large part of preventing problems before they happen is Airmen acting as wingmen and keeping their eyes open for warning signs," Mr. Garcia said.

There are many warning signs to watch out for in others:

- feeling anxious much of the time
- easily becoming irritated
- constantly complaining about headaches and body aches
- feeling tired more often and complaining of not having enough time to sleep
- feeling overwhelmed at work
- suffering from relationship problems
- suffering from money problems
- increasing mood swings
- feeling tense more often
- worrying
- difficulty concentrating on simple tasks
- increasing family and friend problems

A resource available to military members is the mental health clinic, formally known as the life skills support center. Clinics can offer counseling from psychiatrists, social workers and clinical psychologists through individual therapy, marital therapy, grief counseling and anger management counseling for the treatment of a wide range of issues varying from mild to severe. They evaluate, test and treat substance abusers and teach coping skills for issues and problems related to substance abuse.

Supervisors and first sergeants can request to have mental health programs briefed to their units as training sessions.

"Dealing with stress is all about making responsible choices and prevention," Lieutenant Weyer said. "We don't want to ruin anyone's career. We want to help people and return them healthy back to duty."

Other resources for coping with stress and depression include the family advocacy office, chapel services and the Airman and family readiness center.

For more information on stress management or available resources, call your base mental health clinic, or talk to your supervisor.