May is Mental Health Awareness month and in light of the impacts and challenges of the recent pandemic, preserving our mental health and well-being is now more important than ever. Furthermore, we also need to be aware of the health and well-being of those around us ensuring our teams receive every opportunity to thrive despite the uncertainties around us. Sometimes, issues that affect our mental health can be swift and unexpected, leaving little bandwidth to dig through the plethora of resources available.
First and foremost, if you or anyone around you is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 911 or seek emergency medical care. Stay with the person. However, if your situation is not life-threatening but requires immediate attention and you don’t know where to start, you have one of three options:
- Call your local unit medical staff. They can provide adequate resources for your situation including providing trained medical professionals and referrals outside of the office to ensure continued care. If you are calling after hours, use their after-hours duty health services contact information.
- Contact a member of your local Health, Safety and Work Life (HSWL) staff, a victim advocate, or the chaplain. Chaplains provide 100% confidentiality—they cannot share anything without your permission. Additionally, the HSWL staff are intimately familiar with these processes and policies. Even if they cannot offer you resources that fit your situation, they can guide you in the right direction and limit your interaction to those who need to know.
- Call CG SUPRT and speak to a counselor; they can get you in contact with professional services. If you choose CG SUPRT, you will be given an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) reference number which acts as authorization for up to 12 sessions. If your situation involves trauma or long-term treatment, you are encouraged to pursue options one or two first to facilitate a longer duration of care.
If your situation does not require immediate access to resources but you are seeking long-term behavioral health services, you have the following options:
- Contact the Coast Guard’s Behavioral Health Team; you can email them or visit their website for additional information. Members should consult with their primary care managers (PCMs) to determine if referrals are needed.
- Do your own research on behavioral health professionals in your area using websites such as www.psychologytoday.com. Many of these databases have filtered so you can identify those covering the exact services that match your situation and insurance preferences. Additionally, many professionals now offer virtual appointments, which can expand the support to outside your physical location.
- Identify which professionals you think will best work for you and call them to see if they are accepting new clients and verify your insurance coverage, if applicable.
- Once you make a decision, meet with your PCM and discuss options for requesting a referral to these services. Now you can access these services as long as you and your medical team see fit.
- The third option is very similar to the second, research local professionals that meet your needs but instead of working through your PCM/TRICARE, you can contact CG SUPRT and see if they are eligible for coverage under the Employee Assistance Program. If approved, you can use as many of the 12 sessions you would like for your care. The benefit of this option is, if you decide the services do not meet your needs, you can start the process over again and try other options as long as you remain within your allotted sessions.
Very Important Note: All of the above options require close communication and approval from your PCM to ensure that pursuit of these services does not unnecessarily affect your “fit for duty” status or future Veteran Affairs benefits.
The biggest thing to remember is, don’t settle for support that does not meet your standards. If you are not getting the care you need, look for alternatives. Resources such as the chaplains, Health Safety Work Life services, and the Coast Guard’s medical staff are there to be advocates for you. If something does not seem right—bring it up to someone. If you hit roadblocks at any point in the process, do not be afraid to get a second opinion. Also, if possible, don’t wait until your situation gets to its lowest point before seeking behavioral health resources.
Emily Ivashenko is a certified yoga instructor and meditation coach. As a military spouse and a mother, she has navigated almost all of the behavioral health resources and this article is merely a recommendation on how to get started. This article does not substitute medical advice from trained professionals.