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Mental health: stopping problems before they start

Capt. Luke Davidiuk, 30th Medical Group clinical psychologist, meets with an Airman in his office, May 19, 2017, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Often thought of as a place to get mental health help when coping is no longer an option, the mental health flight promotes mental well-being by tackling small issues early before they get out of hand and even lead to adverse life and career affects. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley/Released)

Capt. Luke Davidiuk, 30th Medical Group clinical psychologist, meets with an Airman in his office, May 19, 2017, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Often thought of as a place to get mental health help when coping is no longer an option, the mental health flight promotes mental well-being by tackling small issues early before they get out of hand and even lead to adverse life and career affects. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Military life can take its toll on mental well-being, from stressful operations and extended shifts, to anxiety in the home and depression caused by sleep loss. 

Often thought of as a place to get mental health help when coping is no longer an option, the mental health flight promotes mental well-being by tackling small issues early before they get out of hand, sometimes leading to adverse life and career affects.

“I have noticed that many people have issues with sleep,” said Capt. Luke Davidiuk, 30th Medical Group clinical psychologist. “Sleep is one of those things that affects everything in your life. Because we are military, we have schedules that often fluctuate and there is of course a lot of stress in many of the missions we accomplish. All of these things can cause anxiety and sleep-loss. Often these people develop poor sleep-hygiene habits; where they think they only need three or four hours a night, or stay up late with their phone. Slowly they develop worse and worse mental health symptoms, as they lose sleep.”

Staying active and involved socially can help stave off depression, which can lead to worse symptoms if left unchecked.

“One of the main problems we see when people arrive at this base, aside from sleep issues, is that first term Airmen don’t have any friends in the area, so it is easy to stay isolated,” said Airman 1st Class Avery Lake, 30th Medical Operations Squadron mental health technician. “It isn’t just about trying to make friends, you want to make friends that will have a positive influence on your life. Find something that you enjoy doing, and do it – set goals that will get you out of your room so that each day doesn’t blend together into monotony. There are great opportunities for Airman, like myself, on this base— you just have to step outside your comfort zone, and I think you will be glad you did.”

The mental health flight takes a holistic approach to mental well-being, looking beyond the symptoms to understand the root cause and the best way to help Airmen.

“From my perspective I like to think about mental health holistically,” said Davidiuk. “How is your sleep? How are your eating habits? How much are you exercising? How is your social support system? All of these factors affect your well-being.”

An unbalanced mental state can be caused by numerous factors, whether PTSD or chronic depression, it is important to find something that works for the individual.

“I did my residency at the VA before this, and I found that one of the most effective treatments for veterans with pain, anxiety, depression or PTSD, was yoga,” said Davidiuk. “It combines the physical activation from the stretching and movement, to the mindfulness component which we know is very effective. And then on top of these things you have the social component, because you are in a group with your peers. We have a lot of the hallmarks of mental well-being at once. Whether you are into yoga or CrossFit, or just spending time at the gym – these all help you stay balanced and sharp.”