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Recovering from invisible wounds: Airman finds strength through mental health

Senior Airman Margaret Merkling, 819th RED HORSE Squadron knowledge operator, second from left, poses for a photo with her family. Merkling said the Air Force treated her like a family member while supporting her through high functioning depression. (Courtesy photo)

Story by Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam

341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

It all began at Yokota Air Base, Japan. She was injured and the symptoms were creeping in and these weren’t the typical signs that something was wrong. These were wounds no one else could see and only she could feel. This Airman was suffering from high-functioning depression.

Senior Airman Margaret Merkling, 819th RED HORSE Squadron knowledge operator, was serving in Japan when she began to notice changes in her mental wellbeing.

“When I first got there I loved going out on the weekends, I loved exploring and finding new things and as time was going on I was beginning to get into this habit of not wanting to go out,” Merkling said. “I got into the mindset that told me nobody wanted to see me and nobody wanted to hang out with me so I just stopped doing things.”

Merkling said she was fine at work and her job never suffered from the way she was feeling.

“I would be at work, I would do my job, I would get everything done and it was never a problem,” Merkling said. “Work I did great, but at home it was a different story.”

Merkling knew something wasn’t right.

She would occasionally have thoughts that no one would miss her or care about her if she was gone, but she also knew it wasn’t true.

It was then she decided to get the help she knew she needed.

I talked to a therapist and they thought it might be beneficial for me to go on some anti-anxiety medicine,” Merkling said. “It took less than a week for my family members to start noticing the difference.”

She said her family could tell she was a lot happier and less anxious.

“It just all around helped me want to go back out and start doing things regardless of whether or not I had someone to go with me,” Merkling said.

Merkling said it is just as important for Airmen to take care of their mental health as it is for them to take care of their physical health.

“It is immensely important to be aware of where you are at mentally and emotionally and that if you’re not where you need to be that you go and talk to somebody,” Merkling said. “It makes it that much easier to cope when you know what’s going on.”

Merkling said she feels the negative stigma of seeking help is not true. Although, she did say it could impact one’s career.

“If it affects your career at all it’s going to be in a positive way – that you’re doing your job better,” Merkling said.

Merkling feels her Air Force family has supported her through her journey and allowed her to get the help every Airman deserves.

“The Air Force in its way of supporting and helping me with my high functioning depression (has) offered me a way to get seen for it and a way to be treated,” Merkling said. “They are super understanding and they just want to make sure you’re OK.”

Throughout her journey, Merkling said the Air Force treated her as much more than just a number.

“The way the Air Force helps is that they are basically an extended family,” Merkling said. “For me, family is super important. To have people treat me like I’m a member of their family, the acceptance, the ‘let’s make sure you’re OK,’ those were the things that helped me.”

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