Tri-Service Team Aims to Improve Mental Health Care on Okinawa

by Joseph Andes, United States Naval Hospital Okinawa
U.S. Navy

Representatives from the Army, Navy and Air Force on Okinawa have joined forces in an effort to improve mental health care for service members and their families. This collaboration, called the Purple Mental Health Team, allows mental health professionals across the island to pool their resources and coordinate a comprehensive approach to mental health issues.

“Before this committee was put together this past December, the tri-service mental health team did not have a designated, community-based, health promotion platform to share mental health expertise, concerns, and potential collaborative outreach and prevention activities,” said Major Tod W. Frazier II, Director of Psychological Health and a Suicide Prevention Coordinator with the 18th Medical Group on Kadena Air Base. “Additionally, this committee helps us understand each services mission constraints, fiscal challenges, and unique nuances associated with our diverse mental health care delivery system here in Okinawa.”

Members of the team say that beneficiaries, regardless of branch, often have the same needs when it comes to mental health.

“We all share a common thread being on Okinawa together, regardless of uniform,” said United States Naval Hospital Okinawa, Japan Director of Mental Health Services Commander Tim Rousselow. “There are of course some inherent differences in regards to our different core missions, but being overseas and away from home adds an additional stressor on our active duty and their families.  Knowing this, it just makes perfect sense that we all come together to increase communication between the mental health medical services collaborating toward a common cause to improve the mental wellbeing of our beneficiaries.”

According to Rousselow, mental health issues can impact much more than just the individual service member or family member.

“Having a ready and capable force to surge forward at a moment's notice is crucial,” said Rousselow. “The mental health wellness of our service members and their families is of course a part of this.  Our mental health providers at all the different levels work diligently to ensure our beneficiaries receive the absolute best care possible, and this helps ensure mission readiness. All of the state of the art weapon systems are useless if you don't have trained experts able to employ them. Those members also need to be in a state of mental well-being, and not distracted by stressor in their life.  We can't afford to have mental distractions when asked upon to go downrange and execute our different missions.”

The Purple Mental Health Team is made up of mental health professionals from the various services. Agencies and programs represented at the team’s meetings range from the Army Exceptional Family Member program to the Air Force Family Advocacy Program. Units and commands represented include the 18th Medical Group, United States Naval Hospital Okinawa, Japan and Army Medical Department Activities (MEDDAC) Japan. The team hopes to add more members as it looks to the future.

“We have already had several very productive meetings mapping out a great game plan to support one another,” says Rousselow.  “We have identified some potential areas to improve as we continue to strive toward being highly consistent and reliable in our health care delivery”.

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