JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Don't suffer in silence. Every day millions of Americans deal with some type of mental illness.
In fact, according to the CDC, 1 in 5 Americans will experience some type of mental illness in a given year; and some of those Americans are in the military.
However, there are programs available to service members and their families to help them cope with the stresses of mental illness and stress.
While the holidays are a joyous time for many people, they can be just as stressful for others. That's part of the reason why the Fleet and Family Support Center offers free and confidential counseling to military members and their families.
This program is available at all three of the Navy bases in the region (Naval Station Mayport, Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay).
Tyler Key is a clinical counselor at Naval Station Mayport and says that service is catered to the needs of the patient.
"We don't go into counseling coming up with goals for the service member," said Key. "It's very collaborative based on what the service member identifies and we come up with goals on what they want to talk about on a regular basis."
"Our program covers any SRB or suicidal or related behavior," said Key. "This can be related to job stress, this can be related to family stress, deployment stressors, so we really try to look across the board to stresses that sailors encounter on a regular basis so we can support as needed."
John Tappen served in the Navy for four and a half years, but needed professional help after experiences from deployment.
"I think we hide it, but it eventually comes out," said Tappen. "You suppress it and suppress it, and eventually it comes out. For me, it was a breakdown at Walmart for no apparent reason. Therapy gives you that kind of sounding board because a lot of times we just suffer in silence, we don't say any of the things we think."
Prior to therapy Tappen had suicidal thoughts and said that the holiday season often makes matters worse for service members.
"It starts everything during the holidays," recalled Tappen. "It feels guilty that I've missed so many, and it goes to I don't deserve any of these nice holidays, I'm a P.O.S and really beat yourself up and that's what starts it."
While Tappen still participates in therapy he also received a service dog named Henry from K9s for Warriors to help with his mental health issues.
"He is just an awesome ray of sunshine," said Tappen. "I'm just a better all around person because of Henry."
Henry had such a positive influence on Tappen that he rescued a second dog named Roy. While Tappen is now a veteran, his journey back to becoming the person that he wanted to be started with a call for counseling.
"Pushing the stigma aside and admitting that something was wrong was the first step to addressing what was wrong," said Tappen.
"Mental health can be a complicated system," said Key, "especially when it comes to active duty service members."
Counseling through Fleet and Family Support Center is free and confidential. If you are a member of the Navy or related to a service member and are interested in more information about Fleet and Family Support Center here are numbers to call:
- 904-270-6600 - Naval Station Mayport FFSC
- 904-542-5745 - NAS Jax FFSC
- 912-573-4512 - Submarine Base Kings Bay FFSC