Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, recently met with the Air Force Medical Service leaders to discuss the Department of the Air Force’s approach to prioritizing care and support through ongoing initiatives aimed at improving access to mental health care resources.
“Mental health care is health care, and the old misconception about a diagnosis being the end of someone’s career is outdated thanks to advancing support, medical research, and evolving policies,” Kendall said. “Every Airman and Guardian is critical to our mission and we need every member of the team at their best. One team, one fight.”
On July 5, the 19th Medical Group mental health clinic began offering mental health group therapy in an effort to improve access to care for patients who are seeking mental health assistance.
The previous mental health clinic model allowed for six to eight initial patient appointments per week, while 12 to 14 new patients can be seen with the group therapy model. Follow-up appointments are also set to more than double in availability, going from 50 to 55 patients a week to 120 or more.
“Our mental health team looked at several models to better meet the demand of patients and help combat the nations’ mental health access issues,” said Col. Elizabeth Beal, 19th Medical Group commander. “Our mental health group therapy entails members being guided in small groups by mental health professionals, while working together to help each other improve and progress in their mental wellness.”
In preparation for the group therapy sessions, the licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists within the mental health clinic completed additional training to be able to lead these sessions.
Patients can begin the initial process of seeking mental health assistance by participating in an orientation, which helps providers identify and discuss the options that will work best for the individual seeking care.
Following the orientation, patients are then vectored toward either the mental health clinic or another helping agency such as the True North program, the chaplain corps, or military family life counselors.
“Group therapy highlights the commonality of others seeking help and helps demonstrate the multiple ways to get assistance,” said Beal.
If vectored toward the mental health clinic, patients will be scheduled for an individual intake session, before deciding, with the provider, about which group treatment is best.
As another avenue of improvement, mental health care technicians can now also conduct initial intake appointments, allowing for providers to see other patients simultaneously and maximizing the care provided by the clinic, Beal said.
Once patients have completed their group therapy plan, providers will evaluate if further steps need to be taken or if other changes in treatment need to be made.
The group therapy program is just one of several initiatives started within the last year to increase access to mental health care.
Beginning in September of 2021, the mental health clinic increased access to care by 300% transitioning from roughly 30 appointments a week to more than 100. Additionally, the clinic prioritized collaborations with helping agencies, increased referrals by 10%, and began developing formal procedures for movements of patients within helping agency sources.
“We’re all Airmen, but we’re also people,” Beal said. “Providing group therapy is designed to help more of those in need sooner with the added benefits of connecting members, while educating and bringing more people into our clinic.”
Further benefits of the new program include getting patients started with care sooner, providing improved and more consistent follow-up appointment availability, improving the timeliness of medical evaluation board submissions, and reducing the impact of no-show rates and patient cancellations.
For more information about the mental health group therapy program, you can reach the mental health clinic at (501) 987-7338.