Maxwell AFB, AL --
The holiday season is often a festive time of year. It is a time of year where we pass along holiday traditions to our children and grandchildren. Many of us prepare for the holidays weeks in advance. We have favorite or signature recipes, we play and sing along to traditional music, we watch Christmas shows, go to parades and festivals, shop for gifts, search for the perfect tree and decorate it with our favorite ornaments.
However, for some people the holiday season is a stressful time of year. A time that is filled with painful and unhappy memories, loneliness, sadness, confusion, concern about buying and affording gifts; a time where depression, substance abuse, and thoughts of self-harm worsen. This year, COVID-19 may also impede holiday cheer for many individuals and families.
Individually and combined, these stressors drain our enthusiasm for the holidays and impact our mental health. However, of all the risk factors, social isolation is one of the strongest contributing factors to mental illness and suicide. COVID restrictions have resulted in increased isolation and a reduction in human-to-human connectivity.
Many of our Air and Space Professionals are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to unique stress of life in the military such as deployments, family separation and related job duties. As noted by the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, "The challenge that I've seen here is that the stressors that we have this year are much different than the stressors of we had last year." Gen Brown also said, “We don’t have a chance for our airmen to connect and be close to the folks that they work with on a day-to-day basis.”
Research depicts how critical it is at every level of our organization and community to look out for each other and take the time to care for our own personal wellness; to get help for ourselves and help others before stress becomes distress. It is my hope that each of us take the time to check in with our team members and their families to measure the level of stress and resilience, so we can proactively provide support while the situation is manageable. It is imperative we include family in conversations and as valuable members of our team. Our families are the pulse of our community. To assess risk, we should ask targeted questions and be prepared for an uncomfortable response or a response that require a higher level of support for the member and or the family. Early intervention can keep stressors manageable, keep the member and family safe, improve retention and work productivity and strengthen mission preparedness.
Individually and daily, we should pause and take a moment of reflection or do a self-assessment to rate our wellness; healthy (eustress) or unhealthy stress (distress). We should embrace healthy stress as key to learning ways to overcome future stress and keep us on our toes at work, home and at school. However, we also should be aware of unhealthy stress where stress exceeds our ability to cope. Unhealthy stress results when we do not have relief from stressors in our life resulting in burnout, chronic stress or resulting in physical or mental health issues. To care for our mental health is as important as caring for our physical health. In a survey from the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), 64% of people with a mental illness found the holidays made their condition worse.
We are fortunate in the Air Force and DoD system to have access to the highest level of care with wrap-around support resources to keep our members, their families and our community safe. However we cannot accomplish an effective safety strategy without the support of readers such as yourself. It is an individual responsibility to have the courage to seek help when you feel overwhelmed and put into action wellness steps to reduce risk by connecting with others, securing guns and other potential means of harm before the situation becomes emergent, and seeking help while the situation is in its early stages. Bystanders also play a valuable role in reducing risk. Bystanders should be aware of risk factors and warning signs, know and utilize the helping agencies and show care by taking the "lead" no matter how difficult the situation is or ask tough questions when you are concerned about someone and take the journey with them to get help.
We have resources on and off the installation that provide free and private care to help our uniform, their family members, veterans and civilians: Mental Health, Family Advocacy, Chaplains, Military and Family Life Counselors
(MFLC), True North, Tricare, Military OneSource, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Military and Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), American Association of Suicidology (AAS), American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Real Warriors, (SPRC), Wingman Online and AF Resilience just to name a few resources.
If you have questions, contact your Violence Prevention Integrator (VPI) and if you have an emergency call SFS at 953 -7222 or call 911.