Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a more appropriate time to practice mental health check-ins on yourself and others.
Social distancing, isolation and economic uncertainty have led to increases in stress, anxiety, fear, depression and even suicide across the country.
The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time for raising awareness about mental health conditions, learning how to improve mental health and reducing the stigma that surrounds it.
Military mental health professionals and chaplains are encouraging Soldiers, DOD civilians and contractors, veterans, and families to seek help when needed and find ways to mitigate stress, build resilience and make isolation more bearable. Also, to keep in mind that feeling the stress of the changes we’re all feeling are natural.
“Seeking help is a strength and not a weakness,” said Mark Mancini, the Fort Bliss Suicide Prevention Program Manager. “There are many, many resources available to you, even prior to getting into a crisis situation. I would seek out those resources.”
Indeed, there are many resources available for Soldiers and their families in regards to maintaining and even improving their mental health, both on post and off post.
Command / Leadership
Soldiers interested in seeking medical attention regarding their mental health are encouraged, but not required, to confide in their leadership first.
Within every brigade is an embedded behavioral health unit (EBH), Unit Chaplains and Unit Ministry Teams (UMT), and Military and Family Life Counselors (MFLC). Depending on the Soldier’s condition, preferences, and the time of day, leadership can recommend which resource available within the unit is best suited and point them in the right direction.
Unit Ministry Teams
Soldiers that are uncomfortable with reaching out to their chain of command and have no underlying behavioral conditions can take a different path and speak with their unit chaplain instead.
“In my experience, sometimes soldiers won’t be as candid with their first line leadership, squad leader or platoon sergeant, when asked if they’re ok,” said Chaplain Capt. Patrick Stefan at the 142nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade. “They are inclined to say yes, even though they’re not. With chaplain confidentiality, Soldiers feel more comfortable in sharing their issues.”
Chaplains provide ‘absolute confidentiality’ to those they counsel, meaning all communication is 100% confidential and nothing gets documented. They are also available 24/7.
However, some service members may feel uncomfortable reaching out to their chaplain for counseling, even though chaplains are able to provide non-denominational counseling.
“Soldiers that have a different religious background from their chaplain might feel a barrier that could hinder their relationship,” said Staff Sergeant Jude Martin, Behavioral Health NCO at the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division and Mendoza Clinic Behavioral Health. “But when that comes into play, usually chaplains are very good about taking the religious aspect out of their counseling.”
If Soldiers would like to speak to a chaplain aside from the denomination assigned to their unit, they can communicate that and the UMT will do the best they can do to accommodate from across the division.
Military and Family Life Counselors (MFLC).
For Soldiers that prefer a non-religious counselor but still want confidentiality and do not have any underlying behavioral conditions, the MFLC is the recommended avenue.
The MFLC program provides short-term, non-medical counseling support for a range of issues including relationships, crisis intervention, stress management, grief, occupational and other individual and family issues.
“The MFLC counselors are not available 24/7 like the chaplains, but when you just want to get things off your chest and need to talk to someone, MFLC is there,” said Martin. “And it never gets reported to the chain of command unless some higher risk factors come into play.”
Soldiers can pick the time and place in which they will meet their MFLC counselor one-on-one.
“They’ll meet with you anywhere; it’s just an absolutely awesome underrated program and I just wish the soldiers would use it a lot more,” said Mancini.
During the pandemic, some MFLC counselors offer video and telephonic counseling sessions.
Embedded Behavioral Health (EBH)
Soldiers that have non-urgent behavioral health concerns can schedule an appointment for a telephonic counseling session during duty hours with their unit Behavioral Health Officer (BHO).
Behavioral Health carries an outdated stigma where it could hurt a Soldier’s career if certain things are documented, but this should not be a concern.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to people and to tell them that you’re struggling because of the difficulty of being isolated,” said Chaplain Stefan. “It’s hard when we don’t have an embodied connection with people; it becomes difficult on our mental health.”
For Soldiers that are in crisis and require an immediate response, the BHO will get them on the phone as soon as possible. The Behavior Health clinics also accept walk-ins once patients have been screened for COVID-19 symptoms.
Depending on the urgency of the situation, the Soldier may also be allowed to have a counseling session face-to-face while wearing the proper PPE and practicing social distancing.
If after duty hours, high-risk Soldiers should dial 911 or Directorate of Emergency Services and head to the nearest emergency room, preferably the William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC) emergency room. If overloaded, Soldiers can go to any emergency room to get assessed.
“Just do your best to stay strong,” said Martin. “It’s just a little bump in the road at the end of the day, even though it feels long, you know, we’re all going through it as one military family.”
Resources & Phone Numbers
Resources for Soldiers only:
-Mendoza Behavioral Health Clinic: 915-742-1022 (Includes 1AD CAB, 1AD Sustainment BDE, Joint Task Force-North, Noncommissioned officer Leadership Center of Excellence, , 3rd Weather Squadron, 1st Armored Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, , 204th Military Intelligence Bn., 741st Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), and Air Force attached to 1AD CAB)
-West Bliss Clinic: 915-742-4781 (Includes 11th Air Defense Artillery BDE, 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, 528th Hospital Center, National Guard, Reserves, Warrior Transition Bn., William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Combat Readiness Center, Joint Modernization Command, Garrison)
-EBH 1/1: 915-742-9326
-EBH 2/1: 915-742-1782
-EBH 3/1: 915-742-1499
Resources for Soldiers and Adult Dependents:
-Mendoza Soldier Family Care Clinic Internal Behavioral Health Consultant (IBHC): 915-742-3292 – Embedded with primary care to offer short-term therapy which provides quick, easy access, in a less-stigmatizing environment
-El Paso Vet Center: 915-772-0013 – One-of-a-kind community based resource center that offers counseling to Veterans and Active Duty.
Resources for Dependents Only:
-Child and Family Behavioral Health Services: 915-742-1615 // 915-742-5023 – Individual therapy for dependents only including children, adolescents, and adults
Resources for Everyone (Soldiers, Dependents of all ages):
– WBAMC has established a centralized appointment center: (915) 742-CARE (2273), or toll free 1-800-831-0919
– TRICARE Nurse Advice Line: 1-800 TRICARE
– Family Advocacy Services: 915-742-9500/ 2800
– Military One Source: 1-800-342-9647
– Short-term counseling (up to 12 sessions) for active duty and dependents. Offering telephonic or online chat.
– How to talk to my children about COVID-19
-National Suicide Prevention Lifeline/Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
– Created by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to ensure veterans in emotional crisis have free, 24/7 immediate access to trained counselors.
– Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone.
– Send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.
-Start a confidential online chat session at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
Psychological Health Resource Center: 1-866-966-1020
– A 24-hour outreach center to provide information and referrals to military service members, veterans, their families and others with questions about psychological health. The center is operated by the Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE).
Thrive Initiative for DoD community
– Owned by the Federal Government, a suite of evidence-informed parenting programs available at no cost to military and civilian families that are designed to empower parents and caregivers as they nurture children from birth until 18 years of age. The Initiative includes a series of face-to-face and online parenting programs and a range of online resources and interactive learning modules to meet the families where they are.
Give an Hour Crisis Lifeline:
– A national nonprofit that focuses on providing free mental health care to active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members, veterans, and their families.
Defense Health Agency-recommend Mental Health Apps:
– A free, easy-to-use mobile application created for everyone, including Veterans and Service members, to support self-care and overall mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It was developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2020. The app connects you to resources to help you cope with stress, stay healthy, stay connected, and navigate parenting, caregiving, and working at home while social distancing or sheltering in place.
– Report to the nearest Emergency Room
– WBAMC Emergency Room: 915-742-8205
– WBAMC Nurse Line: 1-800-TRICARE (for consultation)
– Fort Bliss Directorate of Emergency Services: 915-744-2115
– 24/7 on duty chaplain: 915-637-4265
– Local (El Paso) 24/7 Crisis Lifeline: 1-800-779-1800
– Call or Text 211 (United Way Worldwide)
– Crisis Text Line: Text SIGNS to 741741 for anonymous 24/7 free crisis counseling
– Vets4Warriors: 1-855-838-8255, www.vets4warriors.com
– Troubled Soldiers Online Assistance: www.bliss.army.mil/troubledsoldier.html
– COVID-19 Distress Line: 1-800-985-5990
– Eating Disorder Prevention: 1-800-931-2237
– National Drug Abuse Hotline: 1-800-662-4357
– National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
– National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
– National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)
Fort Bliss Army Substance Abuse Program Phone Numbers:
– Suicide Prevention Program: 915-744-2535
– Prevention/Education Coordinator (Drugs & Alcohol): 915-744-1403 // 915-744-2537
– Risk Reduction Coordinator: 915-744-1401 // 915-744-1437 // 915-744-1440
– Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP): 915-744-5188
– Substance Use Disorder Clinical Care (SUDCC): 915-744-1327
– Employee Assistance Program: 915-568-6032 // 915-568-6025
– Financial Readiness Team: 915-569-8376