|By Lisa Soule, U.S. Army Recruiting Command
The U.S. Army Recruiting Command is battling the stigma associated with
seeking mental health care with a personal look into the lives of some
of its Soldiers. Soldiers and civilians across the command observed a
“stand down” day Aug. 20 for training primarily focused on reducing that
stigma. USAREC Soldiers who have sought help shared their stories on a
video that aired commandwide on Stand-Down Day.
The video, produced under the direction of Command Psychologist Lt. Col.
Ingrid Lim, comes on the heels of similar Army suicide prevention video
projects aimed at striking a chord with Soldiers.
The anti-stigma video features junior and senior noncommissioned
officers who speak candidly about their experience seeking behavioral
health care and the issues that brought them to that point.
Continuous combat operations have left the Army unprepared for the
impact on Soldiers’ behavioral health, Lim said. Frequent deployments
cause re-exposure and in turn, more issues. Soldiers who have never
deployed also have the need for behavioral health care.
“Life happens,” she said. “We’ve got to set conditions for people to
Sgt. Warren Travis, of the Columbus, Ohio, Recruiting Battalion, said
when he was exhibiting symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he
couldn’t see what was happening, even as his life was so out of control
a county agency stepped in to check on his children and living quarters.
Although he was assigned to recruiting duty, Travis found that part of
him was still really in Iraq.
Recalling his 15-month deployment as an Army medic, Travis said, “I left
His wife noticed he wasn’t the same person and the two drifted apart,
neglecting their house and children, prompting a call to an outside
agency. “We were just existing,” Travis said.
After an inspection of his home, Travis broke down and his leaders took
him straight to the hospital. After seven months of treatment, Travis
said he is feeling better. People are noticing that his mood is lighter
and most importantly, his wife is starting to see the man she married.
Seeking care for behavioral health issues can seem contrary to
traditional Soldier training and instincts, said Command Sgt. Maj. James
Watson of the Oklahoma City Recruiting Battalion. “We’re conditioned-
response people,” he said. “We’re conditioned to ignore noise on the
battlefield, ignore pain, and ignore injury to complete the mission.
Eventually it will go away.”
But when it comes to behavioral health issues, Watson said the problems
don’t go away.
Watson, a 41-year-old combat veteran, shared his story on the video.
After several deployments as an infantryman, Watson said he had seen
numerous combat-related tragedies.
But something he saw during a visit to a casualty assistance team in
Balad triggered a different reaction. The father of four daughters felt
his patriarchal instincts kick in at the sight of a horrifically injured
female Soldier. The vision lodged in his head and he couldn’t let it go.
“It hurt my heart,” he said.
Watson sought behavioral health care after he wrestled the issue on his
own for about three months — a wait he said was “too long.” As a
sergeant major in the Army, he hopes his story will help junior
servicemembers feel comfortable seeking the help they need.
“This is a new kind of conditioning,” said Lim. “We’ve trained Soldiers
to give help, but not ask for it.”
After a recent recruiter suicide in June — the fourth one this calendar
year — USAREC Commander Maj. Gen. Donald Campbell acknowledged the
stigma about seeking help and called for vigilance in overcoming it.
“Until we end this stigma, we’ll continue to have days like ... today
... these days are just plain unacceptable. We need each other’s support
and vigilance if we’re to win this battle,” Campbell said. “Our
stand-down day will cover a variety of topics with increased focus and
education on Comprehensive Soldier Fitness to help each of us build
resiliency and be ready to help any team member who may be experiencing
trouble. We must train ourselves to observe each team member carefully,
methodically and with a heightened degree of concern.”
Lim suspects the stigma about seeking help comes in part from the
mystery that often surrounds the ins and outs of obtaining behavioral
“The stigma stems from wondering about others’ perceptions and about not
knowing what to expect when it comes to setting an appointment. These
are subconscious questions,” Lim said. “We are trying to bring them out
in the open. This is not a common experience, but it is becoming more
common and we need to make it easy.”
The USAREC video is one way to lift the veil on the process and help
create a map, Lim said.
“We’re saying if you go down this road, this might happen, and you will
feel better in the long run. It’s a confidence course of sorts.”