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Real Warriors campaign breaks barriers to psychological health care

The Real Warriors Campaign member engages with a service member at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo) The Real Warriors Campaign member engages with a service member at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo)

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Asking for help can be one of the toughest missions that service members, veterans and military families face. For the past ten years, the Real Warriors Campaign has been the Department of Defense's leading effort aiming to reduce those barriers by promoting a culture of support for psychological health and providing vital resources for the military community.

Real Warriors is a multi-media public awareness initiative launched in 2009 following a congressional mandate to reduce obstacles to psychological health care and to promote accurate information about psychological health to the military community. Real Warriors is now a part of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate, Psychological Health Center of Excellence.

“Over the last ten years, we’ve seen an increased willingness in service members to seek help from psychological health providers,” said Navy Capt. Carrie Kennedy, the Center’s Division Chief. “We’ve also seen a change in how the Department of Defense offers services, including confidential options that weren’t there before. I think the campaign’s work to normalize use of these services has contributed to decreasing barriers to care.”

Among the hallmarks of Real Warriors’ research-driven approach are its video profiles that share experiences of service members and veterans who sought psychological health care.

“The campaign tells the stories of real warriors who’ve raised their hand and reached out for help, and they’re telling their fellow service members that there are positive outcomes,” Air Force Master Sgt. Bradley Blair said.

One of those warriors is retired Army Maj. Jeremy Haynes, who faced depression and thoughts of suicide after surviving life-threatening injuries. Determined to emerge stronger from his physical and psychological wounds, Haynes sought support from his wife – also a service member – and his healthcare providers.

“We can build and repair our bodies over time but being mentally fit takes support from others too. Realizing that was like removing a boulder from my rucksack. I no longer carried my burdens alone and that’s what allowed me to achieve my goals,” said Haynes.

Haynes’ profile and other videos are available on the campaign’s recently redesigned interactive website. The website features articles, materials and additional resources to help the military community learn about psychological health concerns, take the first step toward seeking help, and serve as advocates.

“Those resources offer a range of information and I think their delivery is equally important – attending events enables us to deliver those resources in-person rather than solely engaging online,” said U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Evette Pinder.

Over the past decade, Real Warriors has connected with more than three million people, including engagement at events, military installation site visits, and interactions on the campaign’s social media channels. Real Warriors has also developed strategic partnerships with local and national organizations and military installations to help support psychological health among service members and families, working with peer leaders and programs to share messages of strength in the military and veteran communities.

Today, 90 percent of veterans and active duty service members believe mental health is as important as physical health, due in large part to collaborative efforts between the Defense Department and the military branches – including Real Warriors’ work to humanize psychological health concerns. Entering its second decade, the campaign will continue to empower service members, veterans and families to take the first step toward psychological health care and support them throughout their journey.

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