Maintaining physical fitness is critical to support mission readiness. However, many service members are unaware of the multiple ways they can get psychological health care when they think they might need it. In this article, learn about the multiple “off ramps” where you can find care and enhance your psychological fitness. Using these resources and strategies, you can proactively manage your psychological health to maintain peak performance.
Your Body’s “Check Engine Light”
Consider your car’s “check engine light.” This is your car’s way of letting you know something isn’t quite right under the hood. It could be a small problem, like a loose gas cap that needs tightening, or a warning of a more significant problem like an engine oil leak. Either way, your car is giving you a “heads-up” it isn’t functioning at 100% and you should get it checked out. Your next move is to investigate the problem, lift up the hood and either fix it yourself or bring your car into the shop.
But what happens when your body’s “check engine light” turns on? Of course, you don’t really have a check engine light in your body. Rather, this refers to the different ways your body, mind, or your own behavior lets you know something isn’t quite right. Maybe you find yourself having unwanted, unpleasant memories over and over again. Or perhaps you are having trouble sleeping. Maybe you are getting angrier with friends and family members faster than you ordinarily would. Or, perhaps you are having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and it’s making you late for work and impacting your job performance or home life. Consider these just a few examples of ways you let yourself know something’s not quite right “under the hood.”
But where can you turn when you are struggling to maintain your psychological fitness and your “check engine light” is still on, no matter how hard you try to turn it off on your own? This was the case for Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Stroup who recently corresponded with Real Warriors Campaign. Lt. Cmdr. Stroup knew something wasn’t quite right when he returned from deployment. To manage his feelings, Lt. Cmdr. Stroup started running a lot, a natural choice since PT is a great way to improve your mood. He also listened to music to improve his spirits. Still, his mind remained on edge and he continued to have unwanted, intrusive thoughts, including those about suicide. In addition, he was struggling to manage the stress of being a new father and maintain a good relationship with his spouse. Lt. Cmdr. Stroup struggled to manage this on his own and luckily found help in psychological health treatment.
“Off Ramps” for Connecting with Psychological Health Care and Resources
Just like with your car, you don’t want to wait for a small psychological health concern to become a big one before you “pull over” and do something about it. Fortunately, active duty service members have many opportunities to engage psychological health care and obtain access to helpful resources.
For example, did you know almost every primary care clinic in the DoD has a psychological health care provider on staff? These providers, known as Behavioral Health Consultants (BHC) provide evidence-based, psychological health care right in the primary care clinic. So, you can see your BHC at the same time you have a routine primary care appointment, or make an appointment just with your BHC. BHC appointments can be made in advance and many have walk-in availability.
All service members returning from deployment are administered the Post-Deployment Health Assessment. This is a chance for the service member to discuss any deployment-related health concerns they might be experiencing. This is a great opportunity to share any questions or concerns you might be having with someone who can get you connected to the right resources to tackle them.
Military OneSource provides resources to support service members and their families to maintain healthy relationships, especially during stressful times such as retuning from deployments and during holidays. In addition, the inTransition program is standing by 24/7 to help service members and veterans get connected to mental health care whenever they want it, while the Psychological Health Resource Center is a 24/7 service providing information on psychological health topics and other resources.
It takes a fit mind as well as a fit body to cope with daily military life as well as the stressors and realities of deployment and transitions. Strengthening your response to stress and maintaining general psychological fitness can help be a source of strength for you and your fellow service members.
What Line Leaders Can Do
Line leaders are an important influence when it comes to encouraging psychological fitness. They can cultivate a positive environment within their command promoting trust and encouraging care seeking. For tips on establishing a supportive unit culture, check out the Real Warriors Campaign’s "5 Ways Military Leaders Can Address Stigma" fact sheet [PDF 855KB].
Military leadership plays a vital role in unit performance and mission success. If you notice a service member having a hard time, reach out and consider connecting them with the care options and resources described above. Try these tips for starting a conversation [PDF 2.6MB] when you have a concern about a fellow service member. By promoting psychological fitness in their units, line leaders help strengthen the force as a whole.
- Readiness and Deployment Support (Marines)
- Comprehensive Airman Fitness (Air Force)
- Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (Army)
- Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center: Psychological and Emotional Well-Being (Navy)
- HPRC: Performance Psychology
- Military Health System: Total Force Fitness
- Military OneSource
Human Performance Resources by CHAMP. (2018, February 26). Total Force Fitness: Your Roadmap to Peak Performance.
Meredith, L.S., Sherbourne, C.D., Gaillot, S.J., Hansell, L., Ritschard, H.V., Parker, A.M., & Wrenn, G. (2011). Promoting Psychological Resilience in the U.S. Military. RAND Corporation.
Military Health System. (2020, January 7). Joint Chiefs Say Mind, Body, Spirit All Part of Total Force Fitness.
Messina, Lauren A. (2018, October 22). A Broader Perspective of Health: Total Force Fitness and Treating Depression. Psychological Health Center of Excellence.
National Center for PTSD, Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions.
Stroup, M.A. (2020 November 24). I struggled with thoughts of suicide. Vulnerability and connection kept me alive. Task and Purpose.