America Supports You: Group Offers Free Mental Health Counseling
By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 17, 2008 Mental Health practitioners nationwide are donating their time and services to provide free, confidential counseling to military people and their families.
“Combat affects everyone in one way or another,” explained Dr. Barbara Romberg in an “ASY Live” interview on BlogTalkRadio. “Most people react when exposed to a situation where there are extreme or horrific events; it is a human reaction to abnormal situations.”
ASY Live is part of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
Romberg, founder and president of “Give an Hour,” said she started her nonprofit organization to educate servicemembers and their families about the seriousness of post-traumatic stress disorder and the importance of taking steps to combat it.
“When we set up the organization a few years ago, the concept was very simple, she said. “We asked mental health professionals across the country to give an hour of their time.”
When one of the program’s providers was asked why she joined, Romberg said, her answer was equally simple. “How could I not? It’s so little that they are asking of me to give,” the practitioner said.
Romberg said a broad spectrum of mental health practitioners participated in Give an Hour. “We have mental health professionals of all kinds -- psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, licensed marriage and family counselors, substance abuse counselors and pastors,” she explained. “One size doesn’t fit all; people need different things.”
Raising awareness about PTSD is as important to the group as providing help to people who need it, she said.
“We are really launching a public education campaign to make sure our entire country understands post-traumatic stress -- what it is and why it’s so important to address,” she said. “Post-traumatic stress is a condition that will affect most people.”
Romberg said there are important signs that a family member can identify that may be an indication that professional help may be a necessary part of the recovery process.
“Anyone might be withdrawn or irritable for awhile, but if those symptoms persist past six or eight weeks, then you need to take action,” she said. “If the family member seems to be uninterested in activities that they used to be interested in before, uninterested in relationships with spouses or children, or engaging in persistent drinking or substance abuse as a way of escaping, that’s a warning sign,” she explained.
Nightmares, anxiety attacks and rage can lead to very serious symptoms if left untreated, she added, “but it doesn’t have to become a chronic mental illness at all.”
For that reason, Romberg explained, it is important that family members work to recognize symptoms and seek counseling as quickly as possible. Most people want to feel as if they can handle these issues, she said. And in fact, they can, but sometimes they need assistance, she added. That’s where Give an Hour comes in.
Give an Hour provides counseling not only for servicemembers, but also for affected family members, whom Romberg defines as “anyone who loves someone who is serving.”
“When someone we love is deeply affected, the consequences are usually fairly far-reaching,” she explained. “Spouses and children are, of course, an immediate concern, … but grandparents, aunts and uncles are just as affected by this situation.
“If you, as a family member, feel like you have resources,” she continued, “you can put together a plan and you have … someone else to help you think through it, and eventually encourage [your] loved one to come with [you].”
It is also important, she noted, to keep a close eye on children.
“Spouses that are focused on their husband or wife, it might be really difficult to also be concerned with their children,” she said. “We see things such as regression -- a young child that’s maybe 3 was potty-trained and all of a sudden starts wetting the bed or isn’t eating or sleeping well.”
The services offered by Give an Hour are free and ongoing, and providers stay in the network a minimum of a year, Romberg said.
“If their provider has to leave, we provide a replacement,” she noted. “They are never told, ‘You’ve used up your services here.’ By building such a hard network, it’s not a hardship to give an hour. And [the practitioners] are happy and eager to give.”
To receive support or to register to become part of this support network, people can visit the organization’s Web site, www.giveanhour.org. People seeking help can search for the nearest participating provider by entering their ZIP code.
“It can be an educational conversation or it can be setting up an appointment to meet face to face,” Romberg said. “If they don’t know what type of assistance they need, they can also click on the ‘Contact Us’ button, … and we will help locate a provider.
“It’s all about partnering, networking, reaching out, connecting -- helping them to get what they need,” she said.
(Jamie Findlater, host of “ASY Live” on BlogTalkRadio, works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)