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News > Troops receive psychological first aid
Troops receive psychological first aid

Posted 11/15/2012   Updated 11/15/2012 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Mariah Haddenham
36th Wing Public Affairs

11/15/2012 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The use of psychological first aid in the field is intended to decrease the long-term effects caused by the trauma of combat.

In past years, treatment for psychological trauma was put on hold until servicemembers had returned from deployment. In the past decade, the military has brought treatment "to the fight," assisting victims downrange.

"Mental health in the deployed environment is typically called combat stress control," said Master Sgt. Shannon Burbridge, 36th Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight chief. "At larger forward-operating bases, there might be a few mental health technicians and one or two providers from any branch of service."

Technicians and providers serve the forward operating base's population and circulate out to the command outposts and other outposts where there is no access to combat stress control.

"Posttraumatic stress disorder is a behavioral, emotional, and cognitive response that may develop after exposure to an extraordinarily stressful or threatening event," said Capt. David Shwalb, 36th MDOS clinical psychologist. "When a troop experiences or witnesses something potentially traumatizing, they will inevitably exhibit some sort of a reaction."

Though there is no known prevention of PTSD without the elimination of trauma altogether, addressing the impact right away by normalizing reactions and emotions can reduce the long-term impact of trauma.

"After a traumatic event, such as the loss of servicemembers after a bombing or small-arms fire, my team would travel to their operating base or outposts," said Sergeant Burbridge. "All servicemembers involved in the event, desiring to participate, would gather and discuss the event and their emotions to provide support to each other."

The presence of mental health downrange helps servicemembers later deal with the range of emotions experienced when returning from deployment.

"Mental health meets with all servicemembers within a week of their return," said Sergeant Burbridge. "We do this to explain and help them differentiate the symptoms of PTSD, and to normalize some of the struggles members have with reintegration."

It is not unusual for family members to pick up on different behaviors from a loved one reintegrating after a deployment.

Family members can generally compare a servicemembers current behaviors to past behaviors and find inconsistencies. Family and friends can encourage returning servicemembers to talk about their concerns or encourage them to seek professional help.

"Simply seeking our services while in the field can help avoid more long-term issues," said Sergeant Burbridge. "The need for mental health services, whether it be psychological first aid or more traditional therapy, should be taken seriously downrange and at home. Any time an individual desires to seek our services they should be encouraged to do so."

The existence of mental health specialists in the field is valuable by allowing for swift intervention as opposed to servicemembers symptoms to go untreated.

"If you or someone you know may have PTSD, there is a tendency to think it's too late to do anything about it," said Captain Shwalb. "It's not though. From the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been advancements in the field of mental health -particularly around the treatment of PTSD. There are several empirically supported treatment options, all of which are short-term."

For more information on PTSD, psychological first-aid, or treatment options please contact mental health at 366-5125.

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