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Warrior Care: Conference Promotes Focus on Wellness, Resiliency

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2008 – Shifting the military culture as it pertains to mental health from an illness-based medical model to one that focuses on wellness and resilience was the focus of a three-day conference hosted here this week by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The “Warrior Resilience Conference: Partnership with the Line” was held Nov. 18-20.

Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, director of the centers of excellence, said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made it clear the commitment to the cultural change starts at the top in the Defense Department.

“This transformation reflects our commitment to support leaders in optimizing health, mitigating risks, and intervening early to prevent illness whenever possible,” Sutton said in a welcome to participants. “As Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen have emphasized, seeking help is a sign of profound courage and strength.”

That’s the message the center hopes to spread through its “Real Warriors, Real Battles, Real Strength” campaign, said Navy Cmdr. Anthony A. Arita, director of clearinghouse, outreach and advocacy for the centers of excellence.

The campaign, recommended by a mental health task force, has the confidence of top leadership, Arita said. In fact, he said, Mullen has characterized seeking help for mental health issues as an act of courage that the military’s leaders need to undertake as a model.

A quote from the chairman on a briefing slide underscored the admiral’s view: “You can’t expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain, colonel, or general won’t do it.”

A stigma attached to seeking mental health care permeates the military culture and stands as a barrier to servicemembers seeking the help they need, a DoD task force on mental health concluded. The “Real Warriors, Real Battles, Real Strength” campaign was created to break down those barriers and promote resilience, recovery and reintegration, Arita said.

“I would suggest stigma poses a barrier to building resilience,” Arita said. “Some of the goals we have with regard to this campaign are to normalize psychological health [and to] normalize the symptoms that commonly are reported following one’s return from deployment, building a culture of psychological responsibility.

“That’s the commitment that we all have in putting psychological health issues on equal par with physical,” he continued. “Just as we invest our time and energies to keeping physically healthy, we need to have that similar investment in those things that keep us psychologically fit, psychologically healthy, and psychologically resilient.”

Through its campaign, the center hopes to build this resiliency by creating awareness and understanding and by modeling support, including highlighting warriors’ stories.

“Through the power of sharing one’s battle, one’s sense of strength, we’re able to mobilize hope and inspire others,” Arita said. “We hope to model, for those who are in leadership positions … what it means to demonstrate strength, courage and a commitment to one’s psychological health.”

He encouraged warriors willing to share their stories to get in contact with the center. He also asked for anyone interested in becoming part of the campaign to contact the center at DCOE.RealWarriors@tma.osd.mil.

No magic solution exists to ensure servicemembers are resilient regarding the effects of combat on their mental health, Sutton said.

“I guess the overarching message is, ‘Get connected, get plugged in,’” she said. “It’s the isolation that puts folks most at risk.”

Contact Author

Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton

Related Sites:
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury
Warrior Care Web Portal
Military OneSource
Warrior Care News
Wounded Warrior Resource Center

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