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Mental health heads down range

The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, with support from the 386th Expeditionary Operation Group, expanded mental health services to Airmen at an undisclosed location supporting ongoing operations in Syria, Oct. 24 and 25.

Senior Airman Brittany Edwards, the noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, deployed from the 96th Medical Operation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, puts on her helmet while visiting Airmen stationed at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Oct. 25, 2017. The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, with support from the 386th Expeditionary Operation Group, expanded mental health services to Airmen at an undisclosed location supporting ongoing operations in Syria, Oct. 24 and 25.

The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, with support from the 386th Expeditionary Operation Group, expanded mental health services to Airmen at an undisclosed location supporting ongoing operations in Syria, Oct. 24 and 25.

Maj. Candee Berck, 386th EMDG mental health officer in charge and licensed clinical social worker, deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and Senior Airman Brittany Edwards, the noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, deployed from the 96th Medical Operation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, pose for a photo while visiting Airmen stationed at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Oct. 25, 2017. The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, with support from the 386th Expeditionary Operation Group, expanded mental health services to Airmen at an undisclosed location supporting ongoing operations in Syria, Oct. 24 and 25.

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, with support from the 386th Expeditionary Operation Group, expanded mental health services to Airmen at an undisclosed location supporting ongoing operations in Syria, Oct. 24 and 25.

“This time of year, if there are going to be challenges with folks struggling it’s because they are away from home [during] Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Johnson, 386th Expeditionary Operations Group superintendent . “Those are going to be the times when folks are most likely going to dip into dark places and need a mental health ‘belly button’ to reach out to and maybe just talk.”

For Johnson this “belly button,” came in the form of Maj. Candee Berck, 386th EMDG mental health officer in charge and licensed clinical social worker, deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and Senior Airman Brittany Edwards, the noncommissioned officer in charge of mental health, deployed from the 96th Medical Operation Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The project began in September when the mental health office reached out to 386th Air Expeditionary Wing leadership with the hope of increasing services to Airmen stationed in remote locations across the area of responsibility. Their goal for the trip was to educate service members on the effects of trauma and its symptoms, while breaking the stigmas that surround mental health and resiliency in deployed environments.

“The key is to build [relationships] so they have some faces to names and people know that we are not out to kill careers,” Berck said. “Our job here in the AOR is to help get folks back into the mission, understanding that life still goes on back in the states. Life still happens, it doesn’t stop just because we come out here to the sandbox.”

Symptoms of trauma manifest differently from person to person, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cites increased irritability, being quick to anger, sleeplessness and increased or heavy drinking as possible warnings or signs of issues.

“We see a lot of isolation,” Edwards said. “You can definitely see a decrease in functioning, as far as work performance, but I would say that isolation would be the biggest [symptom] I have seen in my career. “

Berck said that research shows quick assessment and treatment of traumatic events can decrease the amount of time it takes a person to recover.

Knowing the deployed location had limited access to certain resources, Edwards and Berck used the trip to do a site survey to determine the feasibility of installing a secure telecommunication system which would allow video conferenced appointments.

“That’s what we are working on now, so someone can walk into the medical tent now and say ‘hey I would like to talk to somebody I have [something] going on back at home.’”

Once established, the remotely located medical clinic would be able to contact the 386th Medical Group, who would then schedule a time for the video conference like a regular appointment.

“Clearly in mental health we would prefer to see people face to face,” Berck said. “There’s a lot of things that we read nonverbally, so we do not just like to do something over the phone, in fact most of the time we will not do that. Too much of what we do relies on the full realm of communication.”

The implementation of this type of communication would not be possible without leadership’s support, said Berck.

“Anytime someone has an idea or suggestion that can allow us to better take care of our Airmen, enable our Airmen, increase the war fighting effort and focus our Airmen on the things that will keep them safe and most ready to execute, everyone is all for that,” Johnson said. “That’s a no-brainer, that’s a win-win.”