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    Mental Health is Health: BJACH providers take a holistic approach

    Mental Health is Health: BJACH providers take a holistic approach

    Photo By Jean Graves | May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital,...... read more read more



    Story by Jean Graves 

    Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital

    FORT JOHNSON, La. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, providers from a variety of disciplines take a holistic approach to mental health, bringing awareness to how nutrition, stress, exercise, environmental exposures and more can have a profound effect.

    According to the Defense Health Agency, mental health is health; protecting, optimizing, and defending your mental health is vital to the well-being of everyone and to readiness at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson, Louisiana.

    Capt. Nancy Hausterman, a clinical psychologist at BJACH, said the whole person approach is important when it comes to mental health.

    “Most people may have limited knowledge about how physical conditions impact psychiatric conditions and vice versa,” she said. “For instance, low levels of vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and iron play an important role in one’s mental health. Conversely, when a person is experiencing chronic psychosocial stressors, it can lead to cardiovascular, immune, and metabolic dysregulation.”

    Capt. Aireal Williams, a registered dietician and chief of the nutrition care division for BJACH, said nutrition plays a crucial role in a person’s mental health and overall well-being.

    “The food we eat provides us with the necessary nutrients and energy to function optimally,” she said. “A balanced diet consisting of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help promote good physical and mental health, reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, and improve overall quality of life.”

    Williams said there is correlation between nutrition and mental health.

    “Studies have linked poor nutrition to various mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and even dementia,” she said. “Research suggests that consuming too much refined sugar can lead to impaired cognitive ability and mood disorders. Restricting your eating can also have negative effects, including increased stress levels and reduced cognitive performance, which can make a person anxious, aggressive, and unhappy. It’s important to strike a balance and make healthy food choices to keep your mind and body functioning at their best.”

    Williams said regular exercise and good nutrition can improve one’s mental health.

    “A well-balanced diet can lead to improved concentration and attention span, while an inadequate diet can lead to fatigue, impaired decision making, and slower reaction time,” she said. “A healthy diet and regular exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, boost self-esteem, and promote better sleep quality.”

    Williams said finding balance and establishing a routine can be challenging, but she encourages her patients to prioritize self-care to support and maintain good mental health.

    Staff Sgt. Jessica Lewis, a master resiliency trainer and nutrition care specialist for BJACH, said physical fitness can help those struggling with mental health challenges.

    “Working out allows your brain to release endorphins that make you feel good,” she said. “If a person is struggling with their weight, seeing changes in their appearance can also boost their mental health. If a person is struggling with mental health, going to the gym can be something to look forward to everyday. Whether you go to the gym or workout at home, if you give it your all, you can leave frustrations and problems right there on the gym floor.”

    Sgt. Jason Cobb, occupational therapy specialist, BJACH Department of Rehabilitation, said occupational therapy and behavioral health are intrinsically connected.

    “The occupational therapy scope of practice includes behavioral health and integrates cognitive and sensory processing with motor skills as part of a patient’s treatment,” he said. “A great example of this is how occupational therapy was the most common treatment in the recovery of ‘shell shock’ after WWI and WWII. Soldiers were given occupational tasks such as leather and woodwork to help them focus.”

    Cobb said mindfulness is important in healthcare.

    “Mindfulness interventions are frequently used in health care to assist patients in managing pain, stress, and anxiety and in targeting additional health, wellness, and quality of life outcomes,” he said. “Mindfulness can be used as an intervention through meditation, mindful movement, breathing techniques etc.”

    Cobb said in the field of occupational therapy they take a holistic approach to patient care by focusing on the mind-body connection.

    “While I am new to occupational therapy, I personally believe that a patient’s mindfulness plays a vital role in their healing,” he said. “If a patient in a state of depression, extremely stressed or mentally ‘checked out,’ they will not have the same outcomes as a person who approaches their treatment plan from a mindful, motivated, and mentally strong perspective. The old saying, the ‘power of positivity’ or ‘mind over matter’, to promote healing is real and will usually have positive physical outcomes for patients.”

    Capt. Brianna Kearney, public health nurse, Fort Johnson Department of Public Health said environmental and public health factors can play a role in an individual’s and community’s mental health.

    “Environmental exposures such as noise, the air we breathe, the green space around us, the weather, and our living and working conditions can positively or negatively impact a person’s mental health,” she said. “A solid, strong public health program can directly influence a community’s mental health and resiliency. Things like access to care, addressing health problems or hazards within a community, and strengthening partnerships to improve the community’s healthcare are essential public health services. If public health principles are not upheld, the mental health of the community will suffer as a result.”

    Kearney said there are some things we can do to improve our environment.

    “Changing the lighting or the temperature in our office or homes, organizing our space and our tasks for the day, and communicating with our leadership if someone feels there should be changes made to positively impact the organization, can all have positive effects on mental wellness.”

    Kearney said environmental and community impacts vary from person to person based on their resiliency.

    Lewis said resiliency is a person’s ability to bounce back when life’s challenges arise.

    “Resiliency to me is when you can quickly recover from a setback. Quick recovery affects your mental health because it doesn’t allow you to let your mind fester on the negative,” she said. “One of the 12 pillars of MRT is hunt the good stuff. Personally, when I hit a roadblock, or something doesn’t go the way I think it should, I allow myself some time to complain a little, then I reevaluate and think about the negative event as a learning tool for the future. After that, I get it together and move forward. I do my best to look for the positive in situations.”

    Kearney said her own resilience has been challenged recently as well.

    “I am currently pregnant, and my spouse is deployed,” she said. “I have found that taking time to breathe deeply when I am stressed allows me to center my thoughts. I reach out to friends and family to stay connected. I keep myself occupied with my job, which I love, and I am incredibly passionate about. For me, even when I am mentally exhausted from personal stressors, improving my community in my role as a public health nurse makes me feel proud and accomplished.”

    Kearny said career fulfillment positively impacts her mental health despite her personal life stressors.

    “My positivity and motivational attitude to do more comes from a desire to do the best for the people around me,” she said. “Any positive impacts I can have in my professional role boost my mental health and make me feel like I am improving the space for those that come after me.”

    Capt. James Walker, hospital chaplain, said there are three equally important factors for a person’s overall well-being and mental health.

    “The mind, body, and spirit are interconnected and comprise the whole person,” he said. “By nurturing them, one can lead a meaningful and healthier life. Caring for our spiritual health is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Scientific evidence suggests that having a spiritual life can offer protection against mental illness, strengthen our relationships, and bring about personal fulfillment. Participating in spiritual activities can enhance our grit, positive outlook, and resilience while also helping us discover meaning in life.”

    Walker said never hesitate to contact a chaplain for support.

    “Our spiritual well-being and mental health are interconnected, and this is where chaplains can be of great help,” he said. “We help people reflect on their beliefs, values, ethics, morals, and worldviews, even during challenging times, to develop, maintain, or restore their well-being.”

    Hausterman said there’re are many signs and symptoms that can indicate a person is struggling with their mental health.

    “Dramatic changes in sleep, mood, and appetite, as well as problems with concentration, social withdrawal or isolation, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, or feeling disconnected with reality are just a few,” she said. “Some of these symptoms occur at one time and cause a person significant distress and impact the person’s functioning at school, work, or other social activities.”

    Hausterman said people with thoughts of harming themselves or others need immediate attention.

    “There are a variety of resources available to Soldiers and their Families who face mental health challenges or concerns at Fort Johnson,” she said. “Targeted care focuses on matching the patient with the appropriate mental health support for their needs. This could be anything from individual or group psychotherapy, primary care behavioral health, or non-medical resources like Military and Family Life Counselors and the chaplain. Patients start with a preliminary assessment to determine risk level and determine their chief complaint to match them with the best resources.”

    Hausterman said sometimes specialty care is required.

    “Once it is determined that a patient has a psychiatric disorder such as mild-to-moderate depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, a substance abuse disorder, or adjustment disorder with significant risk factors, patients will be offered follow-up care with the unit-aligned providers in outpatient settings,” she said. “If patients present with intermediate or high-risk levels for harm to self or others, or severity of symptoms exceeding outpatient settings, higher levels of care such as psychiatric hospitalization, intensive outpatient program, or residential treatment may be warranted.”

    Hausterman said don’t wait until you are in crises to make mental health a priority.

    “No matter what you're facing, you don’t have to go at it alone. It’s ok to ask for help,” she said. “There are many resources that can help regardless of the degree of challenge you are facing.

    Editor’s Note: To learn more about targeted care and mental health resources at JRTC and Fort Johnson visit:



    Date Taken: 05.14.2024
    Date Posted: 05.14.2024 17:31
    Story ID: 471277

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