May has been officially declared Mental Health Awareness Month and the national theme is, “Mind Your Health.”
I’ve always said that in order to be healthy your mind, body and soul have to be one. Thirty minutes of exercise, 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes in therapy! All well and good, but if your body is wracked with pain and the prescribed meds you take are causing you to grow by leaps and bounds, how can 30 minutes of exercise be enough? Of course, diet is key…but when stressed, I eat! I don’t even feel like exercising because of my pain. I know, you say, “Excuses, excuses, excuses.” The truth is, I just have to do it! But oh…the pain.
Pain management for those suffering with mental health issues is a tremendous concern. I don’t know about you, but the older I get the less tolerant I am to pain. That’s when I try to breathe, focus or meditate. Meditation works if you do it every day — helps calm your soul.
What about the mind, though? Thirty minutes of therapy — is once a month really enough?
It’s taken me 10 years to get to this point in my quest toward a healthy mind, and only in the last three years have I made any significant progress after attending an inpatient treatment center in Lyons, New Jersey. It was there that I learned you have to “Feel, Deal and Heal.” I meditated, I walked with the help of a walker and tried to eat well. But I was in long-term therapy and that’s the difference. It’s my personal belief that 30 minutes of therapy once a month is not enough for those who have serious mental health issues. You realize that when it takes 10 minutes to take off and put on your coat in the therapist’s office. We all know there is limited access for every Veteran for mental health care and that time is precious. The mental health staff are stressed themselves to be able to meet the demand. You can see it in their faces — I’m sure they too, need help from the case load.
While I was very excited and proud that VA hired more than 1,600 mental health professionals to expand health care and provide outreach efforts, we must do all we can to continue to increase access to care. So what’s the answer? If you extend the time to one hour, fewer Veterans will be seen with our existing staff.
The answer is simple: Continue to hire more mental health care staff to meet the demands. Shouldn’t we have learned this from Vietnam? More importantly, let’s afford every Veteran with serious mental health issues the opportunity to attend inpatient treatment. Let’s increase the access to mental health and make sure women Veterans get equal access. I had to travel clear across the country to get my extended inpatient care, even though the Denver VAMC is a large facility., there was no PTSD program for women Veterans in Denver either. That’s an issue we must address as well — access to treatment near our homes. Let’s not make sick Veterans travel clear across country to get their care. Congress must fully fund these programs and deal with mental health issues regarding all our Veterans – be they active duty, reserve, retired, etc.
Mental health issues are a community crisis now, and it will take a village of mental health professionals to ensure adequate care. Every American should be afforded mental health care. To deny access is to deny a basic human right.
Feel, Deal and Heal – is 30 minutes enough? I don’t think so!
Bonnie Tierney served on active duty with the Air Force, both in the enlisted and officer ranks, from 1973 – 1992. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University. She is a disabled veteran currently serving as facilities management administrative officer for VA in Denver, Colo.