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Mental Health: The battle between health and stressors

Story by Pfc. Kelcey Seymour

Marine Corps Installations Pacific

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan – May is mental health awareness month, which means it is time for service members to reflect on how their mental health affects them emotionally, physically and the people around them.

A correspondent with Marine Corps Installations Pacific Communications Strategy and Operations office sat down with U.S. Navy Lt. Jayme Larick, the division officer for outpatient mental health at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa aboard Camp Foster, to talk about what mental health is and the effects it can cause.

Q. What makes up a person’s mental health?

A. “Most of the mental health field has adopted the bio-psycho-spiritual model, which is the biological, psychological, and spiritual make up of a person. Biological is how healthy our body is, while psychological is the social interactions and attitude we have, and the spiritual is what we believe. These three aspects of a person make up who they are and their mental health.”

Q. Why is mental health an important factor to mission readiness?

A. “It is important because their mindset determines how well they function. If a person is depressed, they will not be able to properly focus and concentrate on the mission at hand. The more a person is depressed or struggling with a mental issue the more attention they pay to themselves. It is not purposeful but we tend to get wrapped up in ourselves when we have these mental struggles, leaving little attention to the mission at hand or the people around us.”

Q. How does a person’s mental health affect their over all health?

A. “It significantly affects a person because when a person is sad or depressed they may not want to go to the gym. They may end up sleeping all the time or have insomnia and this can affect the skin, our emotions, concentration, and eating habits.

There is a high correlation between anxiety, depression and weight. A person may gain weight rapidly or on the other side of the spectrum, they could rapidly lose a lot of weight.”

Q. How can a person’s mental health affect others around them?

A. “Everyone can tell who the negative or positive people they work with are. No one wants to be around a depressed or negative person because it can bring us down too. The opposite is true with a really upbeat person. Everyone wants to be around them because they help energize everyone else. Positive energy brings positive morale.”

Q. How can a person evaluate their mental health?

A. “You have to ask yourself questions. Start with biological. Where are
you fitness wise? Where do you want to be? Do you feel good? Then you need to look at your socialization. Do you have friends? What are you doing in your off time? In the psychological side, are you having thoughts about hurting yourself or others or is it the opposite? Do you think you are a great person and do the people around you like being
around you?

Sometimes a person can think one thing but evaluations from others say the opposite. You have to look at everything to get a real picture of your mental health.”

Q. What can be done to improve one’s mental health?

A. “Depending on if it is a situational stressor, such as a break-up or being somewhere you don’t enjoy, there are things that can help improve your mental health. Many young service members come to Okinawa and it is overwhelming. They are away from home for the first time, there are many rules they have to follow, and many start relationships here. It can be challenging in Okinawa and these are all stressors that can affect their mental health.

To combat this you can work on a different aspect of yourself. Socialize by going to the gym, or a Single Marine Program event. Give yourself daily structure to build on and the rest will kick into gear. Focus on one thing at a time and do not expect a quick fix. It is a gradual thing that will take time and work.”

Q. What are symptoms to watch for to help determine a person’s mental health?

A. “Look for changes in a person’s presentation. Usually if a person is feeling depressed or anxious they will show signs. They might look tired all the time, or their weight will change. Their hygiene and appearance can be affected. They might try to isolate themselves. They may start talking about hurting or killing themselves.

There is an old idea that if you ask a person if they want to kill themselves that it will push them into doing it. That is not true. If a person says something about hurting or killing themselves you need to ask them. Get clarity and get them help.”

Q. How can a person support others who are going through mental health challenges?

A.” Realize when a situation is normal. There are times when the passing thought of just not waking up in the morning is normal. Everyone has had the though at least once. It is a normal human response to stress. It is okay to not be okay once in a while.

It is not okay to have a plan to kill yourself, or think about it daily. When someone voices things of that nature, asset them to someone who can help. Never push someone away when they say something that you do not think is right. Listen to them, talk to them, and be there. The worst thing someone can do is isolate a person by pushing them away.”

The following mental health resources are available to individual service members, their families and all Department of Defense employees. The emergency room may be used when a person believes they are an imminent threat to themselves or others. In the ER they will get an evaluation and a mental health provider will come in to do an in-patient admission. Unit chaplains are also call 24/7, and Marine Corps Community Services has different counseling programs and a behavior health branch to support those with questions or in need of assistance.

MCCS, behavior health on Okinawa can be contacted at 645-2915 or 098-970-2915.

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