Psychology's response to military's mental health needs

Psychologists donate thousands of hours to support active duty military members, veterans and their families

By Public Relations Staff

April 14, 2011—According to the November 2010 issue of the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report published by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, which was dedicated solely to mental health, the percent of active duty military ever diagnosed with one or more of five mental health conditions (PTSD, major depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol dependence and substance dependence) rose from 6.4 percent in 2007 to 7.6 percent in 2010.

Records obtained from The Defense Medical Surveillance System were surveyed from the period between January 1, 2007 and June 30, 2010. According to the November 2010 report, ten percent of all soldiers on active duty on the final day of that surveillance period had been diagnosed with at least one of the five conditions during active service.

This year’s State Leadership Conference included a workshop on “Psychology’s Response to our Military’s Mental Health Needs.”

“There has never been a time when the mental health profession is needed to lead like it is needed now,” panelist Barbara van Dahlen, PhD, founder and president of the non-profit organization Give an Hour, told psychology leaders.

Dr. van Dahlen and fellow panelists Jaine Darwin, PsyD, co-founder and co-director of Strategic Outreach to Families of all Reservists (SOFAR); and Rear Admiral Frank Gallo, USN (Ret.), National Director of the Armed Services YMCA joined panel chair Larry C. James, PhD, ABPP, dean and professor, School of Professional Psychology, Wright State University to discuss how Give an Hour, SOFAR and the YMCA (now known as the Y) provide support to active members of the military, veterans and their families, and opportunities for psychologists to join the effort.

Give an Hour has created a national network of psychologists and other licensed mental health providers who agree to give one hour of their time each week to provide free counseling and other mental health services to military members, veterans and their families who are experiencing the psychological effects of their deployment, combat and reintegration into society after serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since Give an Hour was founded in 2005, van Dahlen told SLC attendees, volunteers have given nearly 37,000 hours.

“You don’t need to be an expert in trauma,” said Dr. van Dahlen. “I’m a child psychologist. Give whatever you can, whatever your area of expertise.”

Co-directed by Jaine Darwin, PsyD, and Kenneth Reich, EdD, both members of APA Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis), SOFAR offers pro-bono psychotherapy, psychoeducation and support services to extended families of National Guard and Reserves deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq from deployment through return and reintegration. Based in Massachusetts, SOFAR also has chapters in New York, Michigan and Florida.

“When a soldier deploys, the whole family serves. When a soldier returns, the whole family is impacted,” said Dr. Darwin. “There are minefields out there—stigma, addiction to painkillers, delayed onset of [post-traumatic stress disorder, or] traumatic brain injury.”

The Military Outreach Initiative of the Armed Services YMCAs, an affiliate of the Y, supports the U.S. military and their families. “Each branch is different,” Admiral Gallo said, “and we deliver what each branch needs.” Programming includes an afterschool program for kids in grades 2 to 6 who are new to the area and the base; father-daughter dances; a family Y membership for the period of a member’s deployment; and Operation Kid Comfort, which has made and delivered 8,000 quilts with soldiers’ photos on them for children of deployed servicemen and women.

Help Center Resources

APA is a partner of Give an Hour and SOFAR, with the Practice Directorate helping spread the word about their mission, commitment and the process by which psychologists can volunteer their services to military personnel and their families.

Also among efforts to help military personnel and their loved ones, the APA Help Center offers a variety of resources for active duty military, veterans and their families.

These include "Resilience in a Time of War," an APA tips and brochure series aimed at parents and teachers of children in preschool, elementary and high school, and "Homecoming: Resilience after Wartime," a brochure for returning service members and their families dealing with homecoming adjustments and issues.

The APA Practice Directorate has distributed more than 700,000 copies of the Resilience in War series, an outgrowth of APA's Road to Resilience Campaign launched in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

APA and the Y partner to help people make healthy lifestyle choices for their mind and body.

In addition, the Directorate has distributed more than 2,000 Resilience and Mind/Body Health Tool Kits to APA members for use in grassroots resilience-building activities in their communities.

Below is a complete list of APA Help Center military resources:

Age-specific resilience resources:

For more information, contact Give an Hour or Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists (SOFAR). For more information on the Y and other public education activities, contact your state, provincial or territorial psychological association.