By Cmdr. Michail Charissis, director of psychological health, Bureau of Navy Medicine and Surgery
Editor’s note: Throughout the month of May, Navy Medicine is dedicated to mental health awareness. To begin the conversation, Cmdr. Michail Charissis, director of psychological health, Bureau of Navy Medicine and Surgery discusses Navy Medicine’s commitment to mental health awareness, advocacy and treatment.
Navy Medicine providers understand the demanding environment of military life and experiences of combat, during which many Sailors and Marines experience psychological distress. Back at home these service members also face such critical issues as non-combat trauma, exposure to suicide, homelessness, and/or problematic substance use and related disorders.
These issues can adversely impact an individual’s mental well-being and compromise the ability to make healthy choices, leading not only to diminished functioning at the individual level but also broader welfare losses at the household and societal level.
As a leader in mental health awareness, treatment, and research, Navy Medicine is instrumental in the development of advances that are improving the lives of Sailors, Marines, their families and retirees who suffer from a mental health condition.
Navy Medicine aggressively pursues screening, treatment, recovery and prevention programs and services to improve the well-being of Sailors, Marines, their families and retirees suffering from a variety of psychological disorders. These mental health evaluation and treatment services are available across the globe, and providers continually strive to improve access to these services for our beneficiaries.
The broad spectrum of available services and interventions, from prevention to focused mental health treatment, is the foundation of Navy Medicine’s approach to care. Navy Medicine has the tools and resources to help Sailors, Marines, family members and retiree’s remain or become emotionally healthy by helping them to continuously improve their ability to cope with their emotions and to make better and healthier choices for themselves and their families.
The stress continuum is a model that identifies how Sailors, Marines, and their family members react under stressful situations. It is the foundation of Navy and Marine Corps efforts to promote psychological health and help individuals increase awareness of their own resilience and coping ability. It uses a color-coded map to identify behaviors and reactions to stress that may require further attention. With increased self-awareness, it becomes easier to know when help is needed.
Once that need is identified, Navy Medicine mental health providers are positioned in multiple settings throughout our military treatment facilities (MTFs) in order to maximize access. For example, mental health consultants are an integral part of primary care settings. These providers are equipped to manage concerns not requiring specialty care as soon as the concern is identified. They can also expedite referrals for more serious conditions, which reduce the barriers between points in the care system. This care takes place in the environment best suited to an individual’s specific mental health care needs. And throughout our system, we have initiatives and programs in place to address: performance improvement; outcome monitoring; and quality of care, including variations in quality of care between Navy MTFs as well as between the services.
Additional resources are available in operational environments. For example, the Marine Corps, in collaboration with Navy Medicine, has deployed the operational stress control and readiness (OSCAR) program. This model maintains the psychological mental health by training Marines in the early identification and management of mental health issues in their peers and placing mental health providers within operational units. This model holds promise for reducing barriers to care in other operational environments as well.
For Sailors with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder( PTSD) who have not responded to less intensive treatments, the overcoming adversity and stress injury support (OASIS) program has developed and refined a model of treatment incorporating evidenced-based therapies, integrative treatment approaches and comprehensive psychiatric management of patients’ medications. The program begins with treatment focused primarily upon developing effective coping.
There are also times that an entire community needs a mental health response. Special psychiatric rapid intervention teams (SPRINT) are Navy Medicine’s primary response resource in providing rapid short term support following operational mishaps or critical events involving loss of lives. The mission of SPRINT is to provide individuals with educational and supportive services in group and individual settings designed to facilitate the normal recovery process and reduce the potential for future problems impacting operational readiness or community functioning.
Mental health awareness starts with self-awareness: how are you feeling, and how are you functioning? And when you’ve identified that you, a shipmate, or a loved one, need help in either of these areas, Navy Medicine has the services to help with both.