By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - With information-packed workshops and seminars, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center plans to showcase its array of mental health services throughout the month.
"Our hope is to have all of the resources that we have in one area so people on post and families can see what's available to them," said Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Allah Sharrieff, executive officer for Darnall's Behavioral Health Division.
As part of National Mental Health Awareness Month, seminars on various behavioral health topics are scheduled each Thursday in May. Each class will include a presentation by local mental health care professionals followed by a question-and-answer session.
Recent seminars focused on children's behavioral health issues, which is an important focus for Darnall as the demands of military life affect entire families, said Corey Harvey, care coordinator for Darnall's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Evaluation Service clinic.
One seminar focused on youth suicide prevention, and a similar seminar for adults is scheduled for Thursday.
Suicide remains a concern across the armed services, said Lt. Cmdr. Alysa Jackson, public health service officer-in-charge of medical social work at Darnall. "We want to make sure we don't forget about that. We've lost a lot of people to it."
Although suicides continue at Fort Hood, rates have fallen during the past two years. The post experienced a spate of suicides in late summer 2010, with 22 confirmed cases that fiscal year.
In 2011, there were 10 confirmed cases. Since October, which started a new fiscal year, five soldiers have committed suicide, according to information from the III Corps public affairs office. Three of those suicides were in March, which was the deadliest month for the Army so far, with at least 18 confirmed cases Army-wide.
"We want to help people with healthy coping," said Sharieff. "There are groups and organizations on post they can turn to to find alternate ways to cope."
For the month, Darnall's centerpiece event is a behavioral health fair Thursday. The fair is the hospital's first in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month, said Sharrieff, a sign that the stigma regarding mental health services in the military might be waning.
"What we're trying to do is reach out and raise awareness that we need to be supportive of one another," he said, adding that statistics show one in four American adults suffers from one or more behavioral health issues. "There has been a stigma in the past, but (the military) is working year in and year out to change that."
Fair participants will receive free massages, acudetox, bio-feedback, music and art therapy demonstrations. They also can take part in reiki, tai chi and zumba classes throughout the day and learn about a range of mental health issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, stress management, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse.
Mental health resources from Fort Hood and the local communities also will highlight available services.
The fair and other events were designed to reflect Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho's holistic approach to health care, incorporating the mind, body and spirit, said Harvey. "We want to make (behavioral health care) synonymous with good medical care, to level the playing field."
Jackson said the behavioral health staff was eager to increase awareness of some of its newer services, including an intensive outpatient program for concurrent post-traumatic stress and substance abuse that opened last year.
Behavioral health care teams also are beginning to embed within brigade-sized units. The 1st Cavalry Division has Fort Hood's only such team, said Darnall public affairs official Jeri Chappelle, but the Army plans to broaden the program to include all brigade-sized units through 2017. The change will amount to 1,000 additional uniformed behavioral health officials across the Army, according to information from Darnall.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.
Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Mental Health Awareness Month behavioral health fair is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Abrams Physical Fitness Center at Fort Hood. The event is free and open to the public.
Additional workshops hosted by local mental health care professionals will occur on Thursdays throughout the month at the Oveta Culp Hobby Center, off of T.J. Mills Boulevard.
Thursday, 1to 2 p.m: Moving beyond feelings of depression/suicide
May 17, 1 to 2 p.m: Overcoming grief/dealing with loss of a loved one
May 24, 1 to 3 p.m: Impact of parents' issues on children and family coping skills
May 31, 1 to 2 p.m: Moving beyond feelings of depression/suicide; 1 to 3 p.m: Post-traumatic stress disorder/trauma
- Colleen Flaherty