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    Surface Force Embedded Mental Heath – a Roadmap to Mental Readiness

    Fleet Mental Health Facility Gives Sailors Help

    Photo By Chief Petty Officer Mark Faram | SAN DIEGO (Feb. 24, 2023) – The Fleet Mental Health Facility is an asset at Naval...... read more read more

    SAN DIEGO - Pete Horn felt like he was losing control of his life and his will to live.
    Twelve years into his Navy career, he had advanced to chief fire control technician. He reported to his second sea tour on the littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS-2) after a successful shore assignment teaching at Great Lakes.
    To those on the outside, all his ducks were in a row. His future looked bright; only he couldn’t see it because inside, he was a mess.
    “The main thing going through my head was a sense of hopelessness,” he said. “Not long after I checked on to the Independence, my marriage started going south - I was experiencing depression and not addressing it. I had a complete meltdown, started drinking heavily and my work performance slipped drastically.”
    It was so bad for Horn that he would go to his stateroom on the ship and cry. He wanted to get help but was reluctant because of what he believed were the consequences of self-reporting mental health-related issues in the Navy.
    “I had heard all this stuff, you know, I’ll lose my clearance, and the Navy can take away my right to be armed,” he said.”  “These things, I believed, would end my career, but frankly, nothing could have been further from the truth.”
    He had reached his breaking point.
    “My depression was out of control,” Horn said. “I was honestly afraid I was going to hurt myself and knew I had to do something.”
    Horn sought out his ship’s independent duty corpsman, an enlisted Sailor who is also the senior medical person on the Independence. After a short conversation, she immediately got him the help he needed. Later, she would tell him she’d seen him starting to spiral and was preparing to intervene when he showed up at her door.
    “It was the fear of hurting myself coupled with my dedication to being a father that led me to have no choice but to go see her and get help,” he said. “I was at the end of my rope, and if it ended my career, then so be it.”
    Half a decade later, Horn is now a senior chief. He kept his security clearance and his ability to carry arms. He’s remarried and says he’s the happiest he’s ever been.
    Now, he works for Naval Surface Forces, Pacific. He’s the Force Suicide Prevention Program Manager, helping others get out of their dark places and back to work in the fleet. He also works with Command Resilience Teams on the waterfront.
    He’s been to the edge and back and thanks the Navy for saving his life. He feels he’s paying it forward by using his experience and story to get the truth to others in need.
    “In the past four years, the Naval Surface Forces has embraced mental health,” Capt. Tara Smith, head of the Naval Surface Forces, Pacific’s Embedded Mental Health efforts, said. “We now have embedded mental healthcare into our force – it’s care that belongs to and is run by surface forces, not the Bureau of Medicine – we take care of our own.”
    Today there are 12 Embedded Mental Health Teams around the globe serving the 75,000 sailors who operate the Navy’s more than 160 surface combatant ships. Here, Sailors get help quickly, often the day they walk in the door.
    These fleet-based mental health providers are pier-side in every fleet concentration area and are not only advocates for Sailors but also guide command leaders on mental health issues. Their mission is to give Sailors fast and quality access to mental health care, enable leaders to care for the crews, and provide training and skills to Sailors to get to the left of destructive behaviors and severe mental illness.
    The EMH teams, comprised of licensed mental health providers and enlisted Behavioral Health Technicians, also train shipboard medical personnel and chaplains in mental health assessment and interventions to provide their crews with life skills training.
    “There’s no longer a wait for mental health treatment in the Surface Force,” Smith said, “Sailors have access to mental health. The wait won’t be longer than two weeks, but most often, it’s immediate. That’s better than in the private sector and most of our supporting Military Treatment Facilities.”
    The help available is as comprehensive as the needs of each Sailor.
    “Many people today equate stress with mental illness,” Smith said. The majority of our Sailors do not suffer a mental illness but need support.  Services and treatments, she added, cover the range from from life stressors to mental illness.”
    Most of those needing help struggle to adjust to shipboard Navy life. They need to learn life skills to cope and get a rhythm in a tough seagoing life.
    Help isn’t only at the Embedded Mental Health Facilities. It’s now taken directly to the ships where their experts give preventative training and services for everyone, from deckplates to the chief’s mess and wardrooms. There’s even training to help command triads deal with their stress. 
    “Not everyone seeking help needs medication or treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist,” she said. “It all depends on the severity of what they are dealing with,” Smith said.
    One of the most significant barriers preventing Sailors from seeking treatment is prevailing myths espoused by sea lawyers on social media. Don’t trust the Navy. You’ll lose your job and security clearance and ruin your career if you self-report mental health issues.
    Just not true, Smith said, and she’s got the data to prove it.
    The truth is that less than 0.001% of all revoked clearances are for mental health reasons.  Sailors are encouraged to seek help and use the resources. 
    Very few will lose their clearance. In the cases of those who do, it’s often for failing to use the services to get better.   To date, fleet embedded health providers have helped nearly 90 percent of Sailors who get help stay on or return to full duty.
    There are multiple avenues and all kinds of help. Guiding Sailors is now an Embedded Mental Health Roadmap, showing what support is available, allowing them to pick their path through the levels and types of care available.
    The first level of care is the Navy’s chaplains. The Navy is adding 90 new chaplain billets, enough to put one in the ship’s company of all guided-missile destroyers.
    By 2025, every destroyer will have a chaplain onboard. The exceptions are smaller ships like littoral combat ships and minesweepers, whose chaplains are assigned at the squadron level and help multiple ships and crews.
    Visiting a chaplain is 100 percent confidential, with no reporting requirements or health record documentation. No referral from your medical provider is needed.
    “I understand the reluctance of Sailors to want to talk to a chaplain about things like stress or mental health issues,” said Lt. Marie Tracy, the sole chaplain assigned to Littoral Combat Ship Squadron ONE.
    “Religion aside, our job is helping Sailors with their spiritual readiness, their ability for their whole mind, body and spirit to be ready for whatever fight is coming down the road.”
    Her job isn’t to push her own beliefs on others but to help Sailors establish and strengthen their own. She calls it a value system that doesn’t need to be religion-based.
    “Shipboard life is tough, so to survive and thrive, you have to know who you are, where you came from and know that you matter,” Tracy said. “For some people, that trends towards the emotional, while for others, it is spiritual or religious. However, many people who come to see me express no faith at all. My role is always to care for everybody.”
    Chaplains can provide the Sailors with resources while still maintaining confidentiality. If on-board medical professionals think a Sailor needs more help, they can send them to their local embedded waterfront mental health facility. 
    There, Sailors get individual mental health assessments, diagnoses and treatment. If prescriptions are needed, Sailors’ treatments get evaluated and managed locally. All kinds of training is also available, from group therapy sessions to specialized training for shipboard medical teams, chaplains and crews.
    Nonmedical counseling is also available on-site. For example, the waterfront facility at San Diego’s 32nd Street Naval Base has 12 Military Family Life Counselors assigned to it. If they’re all booked up, the staff can help a sailor call Military OneSource for a referral to another counselor in the local area.
    Horn says the Navy has come a long way in the five years since he started getting help, but he still believes there’s much misinformation that needs to be tuned out. 
    “I’d say to Sailors, don’t make assumptions and please don’t listen to the scuttlebutt,” Horn said. “The Navy has put a lot of time and money into these resources to keep people in the Navy and on ships; there’s really no interest in ending careers; nobody benefits from that. We as a service are in a better place because this is now available – and it’s free – all you have to do is ask.” 



    Date Taken: 03.30.2023
    Date Posted: 12.30.2023 16:48
    Story ID: 461102
    Location: SAN DIEGO, CA, US

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