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Seeking help from friends and family vital for mental health

Image of three people on a zoom call Dr. Tim Hoyt, chief of Psychological Health Promotion and supervisor of the Combat and Operational Stress Control mission at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, discusses mental health issues facing service members and veterans during a Facebook Live event with IAVA’s CEO, Jeremey Butler and Executive Vice President, Hannah Sinoway. (Screenshot from IAVA Facebook Live event.)

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Reaching out for help with your mental health is not a sign of weakness, according to Tim Hoyt.

Hoyt, the chief of Psychological Health Promotion and supervisor of the Combat and Operational Stress Control mission at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, recently discussed the negative outlook some service members and veterans have toward seeking that help during a Facebook Live event. Also participating were Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler and Executive Vice President Hannah Sinoway.

They discussed mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention and coping with stress surrounding the holidays.

Hoyt, a former Army psychologist, said there is often a stigma associated with seeking help, especially among veterans and service members, who often feel like they have been trained to be self-sufficient.

“That translates into a variety of things, whether that’s leaving benefits on the table that you are eligible for or not reaching out when it is time,” Hoyt said. “Those are all of those critical times when we can’t let ourselves get in the way of addressing those problems, whether that is struggling with PTSD or struggling with thoughts of suicide.”

Given what we’re taught in the military, noted Hoyt, the opposite should be the case.

“Those are the times when we have to say…’Every single day in the military, I was relying on battle buddies, I was part of a squad, I was part of a platoon, I was part of a group that was cohesive, that was working together, and we all had our own sectors of fire,’” Hoyt said.

Support and prevention efforts, he explained, are just as important after getting out of the military or experiencing a traumatic event as they are in the field.

Hoyt stated that many of the problems that military members or veterans may have been facing before, have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Things like depression and anxiety are higher than normal this year.

“As much as we can, we have to continue to say, ‘It is OK to ask for help right now.’ That is the main message,” Hoyt said.

Another issue the group discussed was isolation during the holidays, whether it be by choice or by precautions related to the pandemic. Hoyt suggested that this holiday season would be a great time to reach out to old friends and re-establish connections that may have been lost or forgotten to deal with the physical separation. Reaching out, he said, should be viewed as a sign of strength.

The most important thing that friends and supporters can do is to listen and be a “trusted partner” in the process of dealing with various types and levels of stress, Hoyt said.

Army Lt. Col. Peter Armanas, Ft. Belvoir installation director of psychological health, agreed that seeking help should never be viewed as a sign of weakness.

“Mental and behavioral health is not a luxury. It affects your quality of life and your ability to accomplish the mission at hand.” Armanas said. “You have to treat your mental health the same as you would treat your physical health. There’s no dishonor in asking for help to be mission ready.”

Armanas added that there are a lot of resources available that don’t require seeing a military behavioral or health care provider, including chaplains, the Military and Veterans Crisis Lines, Military OneSource and installation military and family life counselors, which can be more confidential than MTFs.

Armanas agreed with Hoyt that the most important part of having a plan in place to deal with adverse situations is social connectedness - especially when you’re prone to psychological issues such as depression..

“Under stress, the best thing that people can do to decrease the risk of being overwhelmed or overtaxed by that stress is to reach out to someone else,” Armanas said. “Also, don’t hesitate to seek medical care. Behavioral crises are just as dangerous as medical crises.”

He encouraged those in need to use the communication resources they have at their disposal, including social media, to reach out.

“One of the best things that people can do is take the challenge of physical separation and turn it into a benefit or an opportunity to reconnect with people they may have lost touch with,” Armanas said. “Normally, during the holidays, we have a close group of people that we are spending time with, which can sometimes exclude other people.”

Albeit unorthodox, this holiday season gives us the opportunity to re-engage and expand the breadth of our social network in lieu of physical closeness.

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