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Take responsible action for your mental health

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During Mental Health Awareness Month, HPRC takes a look at common barriers to seeking support for mental health concerns. Learn what you can do to get the help you need.

Warfighters lead stressful lives, so it’s important to seek support and resources to help you cope and stay ready for duty. While many wouldn’t hesitate to see their doctor about a physical ailment, asking for help to address psychological struggles can feel overwhelming.

Nearly 44 million adults in the U.S.—about 1 in 5—experience a mental illness every year. In the military population, those statistics are even higher. More than 1.6 million service members have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, and almost 19% have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And only half of those who need mental health support actually seek treatment.

There are many barriers that people encounter when seeking mental health support from outside sources. Here are examples of what the most common barriers sound like and some recommended courses of action (COA) you can take to start moving past whatever’s standing in your way. Read more...

Security clearances and mental health—Part 2: Q21 on SF86

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Part 2 of HPRC’s security clearances and mental health series takes a closer look at the implications of responses to question 21 on your SF86 security clearance application.

This is the second and final article in HPRC’s series about misunderstandings often connected to the relationship between mental health and security clearances. Keep in mind that the trustworthiness, dependability, reliability, and good judgment of an individual matter more than the simple act of seeking care for mental health issues.

Another common myth is that you may not be granted clearance by answering affirmatively to question 21 on the SF86. In fact, answering, “yes” to question 21 on the SF86 will not automatically disqualify you from gaining or retaining an active clearance. Read more...

Security clearances and mental health—Part 1: Judgment matters

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In this two-part series, HPRC unpacks myths about the impact of mental health care on security clearances. Learn how good judgment and your response on question 21 on the SF86 are what really matters when it comes to clearance status.

One of the biggest reasons Warfighters hesitate to seek professional mental health care is the commonly held misunderstanding that getting such assistance could impact their security clearances. Here are some basics: The existence of a psychological diagnosis or disorder will not automatically disqualify you from getting or retaining a security clearance. Almost no one has lost a clearance for having a behavioral health diagnosis. Of those who have lost clearances, only 0.04% did so for solely psychological reasons. What’s more, the simple act of meeting with a mental health professional or obtaining mental health care will not automatically result in a loss of clearance. The issue of mental health and security clearance is complex, so it’s important to clear up some common misconceptions about how mental health can impact security clearance status.

HPRC provides a series of articles about mental health and security clearances, beginning with this one on how your good judgment favorably affects your clearance status. Read more...

Myths and facts about mental toughness

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Learn some common myths about mental toughness, and then get the facts to help understand what it’s all about.

Mental toughness is often described as a psychological edge that helps people endure challenges, overcome adversity, and achieve more success. There are many common myths about mental toughness that can influence your beliefs about where it comes from and your willingness to work at getting more of it. Big businesses, elite athletes, and now military leaders are interested in mental toughness because it helps you overcome challenges, achieve optimal performance, and maintain readiness. Check out these 7 common myths and facts about mental toughness. Read more...

Exercise boosts mental health

Learn how regular bouts of exercise can improve your physical health, mental health, and well-being.

Engaging in regular exercise is critical to maintaining optimal physical health and performance. Did you know that it also boosts your mental health and well-being? Some research suggests a strong connection between exercise and the prevention and treatment of psychological illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Exercise also might help increase positive mental states and support cognitive function throughout your life. In addition, Warfighters and their families can use daily physical activity to remain strong and mission-ready, increase resilience, and boost overall well-being. Read more...

The psychology of heart health

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Learn about the strong connection between mental health and heart health.

There’s a strong relationship between your mental health and cardiovascular health, and new research suggests that both are closely tied together in ways not previously understood.

By some estimates, those with cardiovascular disease are 3 times more likely to struggle with depression. They’re also likely to go undiagnosed because of the stigma associated with mental illness and the lack of mental health evaluations conducted in medical settings. The prognosis is worse for adults with depression: 80% are at increased risk of developing new cardiovascular illness, experiencing complications or hospitalizations, and dying from heart disease.

Depression can worsen cardiovascular health through other health behaviors too. For example, those with depression might be less willing to follow medical treatment plans, more likely to eat unhealthy “comfort” foods—especially ones high in sugar and sodium—and live more sedentary lifestyles. Depression impacts certain stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which also can “spike” your blood sugar, blood pressure, and resting heart rate.

On the flip side, psychological well-being might be associated with higher levels of cardiovascular health. Optimism, for example, might reduce your risk of heart disease. How? Optimism is characterized by expecting good things to happen or having a sense of control, and both perspectives can influence you to engage in restorative health behaviors, reduce risky or harmful behaviors, and make better choices. If you believe that what you do affects your health, you’re more likely to take purposeful action to deal with your illness and take preventive measures to ward off disease in the first place. 

Psychological health and illness impact cardiovascular health, and vice versa. The relationship is a complicated, two-way street. Love your heart by taking care of yourself and seeking help for depression when needed. Your heart will thank you for it.

Making light of darker days

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You don’t have to let the cooler weather and darker days get you down.

It’s almost time to turn the clock back, and for some people, this time of year signals darker days ahead. Shorter days and less exposure to light are no longer thought to directly cause increases in depressive disorders. However, you might still observe noticeable shifts in your mood, behavior, motivation, and even your diet and physical activity routines during this time of year. The increasing darkness and downshift in temperature don’t have to mean the same for your well-being. If falling back is a time you dread, try these tips to create light in the darker days:

  • Take care of yourself. Remember that optimal performance requires recovery. Autumn is the perfect opportunity to take time for yourself. Bank some sleep before you have to run around or travel for the holidays. Get in a few extra workouts so you can savor a piece of pie at Thanksgiving dinner without the side of guilt. Rest now so that you can be resilient later.
  • Set new SMART goals. You don’t have to wait until the New Year to set resolutions. This is a great time of year to assess the goals you want to work toward in the coming year and begin establishing daily habits early, long before the ball drops in Times Square. Doing an azimuth check now can help to keep you on track through the busy holiday season and reignite a sense of purpose.
  • Perspective matters. Some of the reasons why you might feel sluggish and unmotivated during of the change in season are a proxy of your expectations: You think you’re supposed to feel that way, and so you do. Try shifting your lens. Are there things you can look forward to in the winter? Maybe you want to dig into that book you’ve put aside? Break out your snowboard and plan a trip? Focusing on what you’re anticipating rather than what you dread can make a world of difference.

Fall and winter don’t have to become the seasons of your discontent. The grass will be greener when things warm up again, but make sure you take advantage of now to enhance your well-being.

Write your way to well-being

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Learn how writing can help you ward off depression and enhance well-being.

If you find it difficult to share when you’re feeling down or anxious about something in your life, writing can help you make sense of an experience on your own. It isn’t easy to reach out when you’re going through tough times. You might prefer keeping struggles private or feel that there isn’t anyone you can turn to who might really understand.

Writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings can be an effective tool to help you process your stressful events. Writing can help you direct attention to causes of distress and raise awareness of the impact they have on you—emotional, behavioral, or physiological. By helping you express emotions you might want to suppress or avoid, the process can put distance between you and your thoughts, giving you an opportunity to evaluate or restructure your story.

Writing also can help reduce depressive symptoms, improve immune function, and enhance well-being. It can help ease the transition for veterans returning home and experiencing reintegration problems, and it might increase marital satisfaction for Warfighters returning home after high combat exposure.

So how do you do it? When you’re feeling stressed or anxious or just struggling to make sense of something, find 15–20 minutes to write. Include your take on the situation at hand. Reflect on how it’s impacting you and what you’re doing to get by. Use writing as a space to say what you can’t say to anyone else. The format doesn’t matter—on a piece of paper, inside a journal, or in a digital document. While writing, you might notice that you’ve developed a different perspective on events. You might identify a silver lining to a difficult experience. You might highlight effective and ineffective ways you’re coping, helping you take further action to seek help or use those strategies in the future. Sometimes it helps to do this over 3 or 4 consecutive days.

And remember: If you’re continually struggling or feeling more distressed even after writing, consider seeking help through a mental health professional or other resource.

Total fitness fights depression

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Learn how your total fitness approach to fighting depression can help you optimize your performance and give your best to the force.

Depression can impact your mood and performance, preventing you from doing your best at work, on a mission, and at home. A total fitness approach—including physical activity, proper nutrition, positive relationships with others, and mind-body skills—to overcoming depression can reduce feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness and lack of motivation or energy, so you can perform well on your mission.

It’s estimated that about 12% of deployed military personnel and 13% of those previously deployed meet the criteria for depression. And many more service members struggle with bouts of misery or restlessness. A total force fitness approach can help. Read more...

Military moms with postpartum depression

Military moms, like all moms, are at risk of postpartum depression after giving birth. Support and resources are available to help you cope.

Motherhood can be hard for military moms with postpartum depression (PPD), especially those who juggle a demanding career while parenting. You might wonder how you’ll manage your new parenting responsibilities with work. The good news is support is available, so you don’t have to struggle alone.

PPD affects nearly 15% of all women who give birth. While some moms might have the “baby blues” shortly after childbirth, others can experience more severe PPD that lasts much longer. You might feel worthless, lose interest in your baby, or eat and sleep too much or too little. Moms with PPD also can have memory problems, doubt their mothering skills, or lose pleasure in activities they once enjoyed.

Being a pregnant service member can be challenging too. You often have to manage long work hours throughout your pregnancy. And some expectant moms choose to keep their pregnancy-related emotions “in check,” fearing negative reactions from coworkers. Enlisted female service members also tend to be younger and have less support. Some might have unplanned pregnancies. You’re also at increased risk of PPD if you have a history of depression, marital problems, stress, or a very fussy baby.

PPD might be preventable if you know the warning signs and where to get help. There are many useful resources—including health care, breastfeeding support, and childcare—to help you cope. And check with your installation about new parent support programs and other health and wellness activities offered through Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs. Military moms now get 12 weeks of paid parental leave, so use this time to take care of your baby and yourself.

Seek military and family life counseling to improve your mental health and well-being too. And visit HPRC’s Pregnancy page to learn more about pre- and post-natal care.

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