Yvette Branson, Ph.D., suicide prevention coordinator, VANYHHS
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The normal anxiety any of us feel when we consult a physician is often increased when the help is sought for a mental health problem. This can be especially true for a Veteran seeking help for a mental problem or suicidal thoughts. In connection with Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, September 6-9, three mental health providers told us how the NY Harbor Health Care System is working to reduce that anxiety.
Yvette Branson, Ph.D., suicide prevention coordinator, noted the erroneous cultural beliefs that may prevent Veterans from accessing care- that anyone who seeks psychiatric help must be crazy, or weak, or that asking someone about suicidal ideas may cause them. In addition, Veterans may face an internal barrier--the belief that "they have to solve their problems alone."
To reduce this barrier, Dr. Branson said that in the VA, treatment is seen as a collaboration between Veteran and provider, with the Veteran playing an active role. She noted that the former suicide prevention hotline has been renamed the Veterans Crisis Line, precisely to help Veterans feel comfortable about calling early on in a crisis, whether or not they have suicidal ideas. The Veterans Crisis Line, at 1-800-273-8255 is manned by trained people 24/7, 365 days a year. Most Veterans identify themselves, but they do not have to, nor do they have to be registered in the VA system to use the service.
Joshua Hooberman, Ph.D., also a suicide prevention coordinator, observed that when on active duty, servicemen and servicewomen are trained to attend to the overall military mission, not to personal problems. While admirable and necessary, this attitude may interfere with the Veteran getting needed help upon return to civilian life. However, as Dr. Hooberman put it, "It takes a warrior's strength to ask for help - don't go into battle without a buddy." Like the commander who may need help to accomplish the military mission, Veterans too may sometimes need help to accomplish the vital mission of maintaining their own mental health.
Training of staff also improves access to care. Antonia New, M.D., director of evidence based treatment at the Bronx VAMC, noted that staff are trained about an important change in the VA patient population - younger Veterans. Whatever their psychiatric issues, these Veterans are also grappling with the developmental tasks of young adulthood, such as consolidating their identity, and making work and relationship choices. Dr. New's observation is a good reminder that no Veteran, of any age, should be defined solely by his or her mental or emotional problems.
On Friday, September 9, from 10:30 AM to Noon, Dr. Bruce Levine, Director of Education for the NY Harbor Health Care System, will present Grand Rounds, "Facing Down Stigma in the Consulting Room: Reality Oriented Treatment." All staff - and all Veterans - are welcome. Grand Rounds "Facing Down Stigma" presentation by Dr. Bruce Levine can be heard at the following locations: BK 1-222, Manhattan 3076S, St. Albans E-121, Staten Island 388, Chapel St., 16th Street.
September 6-9, tables will be set up in VA lobbies, where Veterans or their friends or family can informally meet staff, and get printed information about mental health. Drop by, and always remember "Don't go into battle without a buddy."