Getting mental health treatment shows strength- I know firsthand

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Since 2001, approximately 300,000 servicemembers have developed depression or some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon return from deployment and that number is increasing every day. Mental health services have significantly expanded to meet the growing demand, however, barriers still exist for those in need of treatment.

The military culture has a long history of stigmatizing mental health care and many may see it as a sign of weakness. Because of that, many servicemembers prefer to suffer in silence rather than get treatment because they believe it will harm their military career. Fortunately, many leaders now promote the use of mental health services. Some, myself included, have received treatment for PTSD in the hopes of sending an encouraging message to others.

In 2007, I deployed to the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base, Iraq. This was not my first deployment and I had years of experience as a critical care nurse. I didn't think psychological health issues would affect me. I was wrong. The casualties were horrendous and relentless and I soon became overwhelmed. After I returned home, I thought I could manage my stress, but I became withdrawn. Eventually I realized that I couldn't do it alone, so I reached out for help. I went to the Mental Health Clinic at my own medical treatment facility. The therapy was difficult, but I stuck with it, and am so glad I did. I became the happy person I used to be, was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was selected to my current position as the 35th Surgical Operations Squadron commander.

It has become my mission to demonstrate to fellow leaders and servicemembers that getting help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Resources are available and they work. Getting treatment does not mean the end of a military career. I tell my story in a video profile on the Real Warriors website, www.realwarriors.net, a DoD-sponsored public education initiative that is helping to combat the stigma associated with getting treatment for psychological health issues and traumatic brain injury. Since my video profile came out, I've heard from servicemembers all over the world that my message is making a difference in theirs and other people's lives. For that, I am humbled and grateful that my personal experience has helped so many who suffered like I once did. I encourage everyone to visit the website and view my video and those of others servicemembers who deployed and then found the courage to get treatment for their mental health issues.

My fellow leaders, do your part to continue to change the culture, eradicate the stigma and spread the message of resiliency as we battle the effects of mental health issues among our military community. Set the example for others and support your troops as they work through therapy.

My fellow servicemembers, you are not alone. Everyone who deploys experiences some level of stress and talking about it helps. Don't be afraid to get treatment if you think you need it. Do it for yourself, your family, your career. You can do it, and you will be glad you did. Believe me, I know firsthand and would not be where I am today if I hadn't gotten the help I needed.