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Air Force mental health team provides for deployed troops

Image of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Davis, conducts a weekly Disaster Mental Health battlefield circulation walk around Quarantine Town. U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Davis, 379th Expeditionary Medical Group Mental Health Clinic non-commissioned officer in charge, conducts a weekly Disaster Mental Health battlefield circulation walk around Quarantine Town, July 27, 2020, Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The DMH conducts battlefield circulations or unit visits three times a week, by request from a specific unit or through the DMH’s determination and observations that a unit is needing additional support. (Photo credit Air Force Tech Sgt. Michael Battle)

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To combat the stressors of the novel coronavirus and improve the overall well-being of service members of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, helping agencies assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing stood up the Disaster Mental Health team in accordance with a Department of Defense mandate.

Activated in mid-April in response to COVID-19, the DMH is led by the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group’s Mental Health Clinic in partnership with the wing’s Chaplain Corps and Marriage and Family Life counselors to provide support and assistance to service members during and after major stressors that affect the base such as COVID-19.

“Most individuals respond to challenging life events without significant negative consequences,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Darren Duncan, 379th AEW wing chaplain. “Nonetheless, while in garrison and in traditional battle roles, Airmen may encounter several types of incidents putting them at risk for the full spectrum of stress reactions ranging from minor stress reactions to more severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Disaster Mental Health is a method to proactively respond to these incidents and minimize the likelihood of longstanding or debilitating stress reactions.”

As part of the standup, the DMH team stood up seven walk-in clinics across the installation to provide same-day services within various locations on the Blatchford-Preston Complex, Coalition Compound, and the operations sides of the base.

“The intent was to meet members closer to their duty locations, reduce barriers to care and provide undocumented meetings to support the increased stress and uncertainty of navigating a COVID-19 environment,” said Air Force Capt. Teresa Thompson, 379th EMDG Mental Health Clinic officer in charge.

The DMH conducts battlefield circulations or unit visits three times a week, by request from a specific unit or through the DMH’s determination and observations that a unit is needing additional support.

According to Duncan, initiatives like the DMH are even more important during times such as the pandemic the world is currently experiencing.

“The DMH has been more than important during COVID; it has been essential,” he said. “Without this team, there could have been numerous Airmen who fought their internal struggles alone that led to permanent negative results.”

Thompson explained that being in the units has given the team a better way to connect with service members and determine their needs.

“[Being in the unit] allowed for more targeted and expedient interventions in the moment, as well as facilitated specialty services due to a deeper understanding of the needs, potential barriers, and resources within units and their members,” Thompson said.

Duncan also stated that he hopes the DMH being in the units will help eliminate the stigma of asking for help.

“[Hopefully the DMH will] break down any stigmas associated with any particular helping agency team member,” he said. “This collective collaboration gives Airmen options to speak with professionals about their issues.”

He concluded with, “the DMH is a tried and true program that has helped countless Airmen through some of the most difficult times in their lives. I foresee this concept continuing these positive results well into the future.”

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