JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Mental health has become an important conversation amongst U.S. military leaders across the globe. These invisible illnesses have affected many uniformed service personnel to include even the most senior-ranking members.
So, how do we combat something we cannot physically see?
For one Airman, the answer to this question is to spread awareness by sharing personal experiences about his mental health journey.
"I was initially hesitant to make the call," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Sweazey, Air Combat Command staff officer and T-38 Talon pilot.
As many may feel when first seeking out treatment, Sweazey was worried about the possible career implications and perceptions.
"Although I had heard many times that getting assistance would not impact my career, I was concerned the reality would not mesh with the policy," Sweazey noted. "Also, as a fighter pilot, I was trained to adapt and overcome. To be able to deal with complex and demanding situations. So was I being 'weak' by asking for help?"
However, as Sweazey's mental health worsened, he noticed the toll it took on not only himself, but his family as well.
"I was tired of waking up at 3 a.m. angry, fists clenched and jaw sore from grinding [my teeth]," Sweazey stated. "I had become short-tempered, irritable, and began not to recognize the person I was becoming. I knew it was time to get help."
This epiphany was a pivotal moment, a snapshot in time that changed his trajectory—to one of healing and recovery.
Sweazey uncovered a life-changing lesson: "Asking for help is NOT an indication of weakness, but rather a sign of courage," Sweazey said.
After ten months of ongoing counseling sessions, Sweazey was able to regain his confidence in knowing he had all the tools to move forward.
"Just last week, I had my last counseling session," Sweazey said. "It was an important milestone in my life in that I was able to look back and see how much I had grown and learned."
Even though his counseling sessions are no longer ongoing, Sweazey understands that mental health requires daily effort.
"[This] was not ‘mission complete’ because, just as is the case with the body, so too must the mind be continuously exercised and kept in condition," Sweazey said. "This is why I find the mental health counselors' motto so apropos: ‘We aim to work ourselves out of a job.’"
"The aim is to arm you with the life-long tools to maintain mental health well after treatment," Sweazey added. "In that regard, treatment is just the first phase in a lifelong journey toward mental fitness."
For Sweazey, the road to recovery wasn't straightforward but changed his state of mind and future for the better.
"There is no 'easy button' fix; recovery takes time and effort on your part," Sweazey concluded. "Like the sign in my counselor's office read: 'It won't be easy, but it will be worth it'."
For members seeking help, please reach out to your mental health provider.
633d Medical Group Mental Health Clinic: Schedule an appointment at 757-764-6840. Walk-in appointments are available Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
McDonald Army Health Center Behavioral Health Clinic: To schedule an appointment, please login to TRICARE Online or call the Hampton Roads Appointment Center (HRAC) at 1-866-645-4584. Providers are also available during normal duty hours for walk-in appointments. Between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Adult MFLC Counselor: (757) 755-5512 or (757) 755-5509
Child and Youth MFLC Counselor: (757) 409-7438, (757) 755-5500, (757) 807-3074 or (757) 636-6495
Call Military OneSource 24/7: 1-800-342-9647
If you have an urgent mental health need, please call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-TALK and press 1 or text 838255.