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Mental health providers, leadership partner for deployment resiliency, readiness

Mental health providers rely on leadership engagement to provide the necessary support warfighters require to remain ready and resilient throughout their deployment. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Josh Mahler)

Mental health providers rely on leadership engagement to provide the necessary support warfighters require to remain ready and resilient throughout their deployment. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Josh Mahler)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Deployed mental health providers work closely with leadership to help maintain warfighter resiliency and readiness.

Service members are away from their usual support systems during deployment, and because the environment and stress puts them in unusual situations, they require innovative and flexible forms of mental health care.

In a deployed setting, mental health providers help service members at all levels providing support, preventative interventions, and consultation. The goal is to assist commanders with maintaining their Airmen’s overall health in order to accomplish the mission.

“We are there to serve two clients, the patient and the Air Force,” said Maj. Adam Dell, the flight commander and director of Psychological Health for the 71st Flying Training Wing, Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. “We serve as consultants to the commanders to give them the most resilient and ready Airman possible to execute the mission. We are also there to sustain the human weapon system, providing the care they need.”

As Maj. Michael Ann Glotfelter, Director of Clinical Health Psychology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, explains, mental health providers mainly focus on maintaining the medical readiness and resiliency of warfighters. This means focusing on prevention and early intervention, which requires leadership engagement. This is crucial to get ahead of possible issues that may arise during deployment.

“It is important that leadership work with us on issues that could impact the unit and mission,” said Glotfelter. “Deployment is stressful for many reasons, so folks may have normal reactions to abnormal situations. As mental health providers we can offer brief, solution-focused treatment to get Airmen back to the mission as quickly as possible.”

Dell also highlights the importance of the provider – leadership relationship to develop effective interventions.

“One of the best pieces of advice from the wing commander was that he needed me to be a mental health provider that could speak to commanders and leaders in that installation in a meaningful way,” said Dell. “Working with leadership, I created a suicide prevention seminar, which was taught to hundreds of service members during deployment. We discussed mental health concerns, why they happen, how it impacts the entire unit, and what they can do to prevent it.”

Their connection to the front line and commanders makes these providers vital to the health and readiness of the warfighter, and their ability to accomplish the mission.

“Deployment is not a normal situation, but by having a constant presence within the units, we were able to help with so much more than what folks may think,” said Glotfelter. “Coming to mental health does not mean you are going home. We want to keep service members healthy and in the fight, and we look for every opportunity to provide that support.”

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