This blog post is part of the OSC Five Core Leader Functions series that features several guest bloggers.
Of the five core leader functions – strengthen, mitigate, identify, treat and reintegrate—the most problematic for many leaders is the “treat” part. They certainly are given enough training in identifying symptoms, but they often have a tough time with their portion of the “treat” part. After all, that’s medical’s job.
I am known for taking a few trips down metaphor lane from time to time when talking about stress. So, perhaps a metaphor might help in understanding the leader’s role in their Sailor’s treatment.
We will have achieved our goal of reducing stigma when depression or PTSD is viewed like a knee injury. If you were to see one of your Sailors limping along on a bad knee, you wouldn’t ignore it. You’d probably ask about it and ensure they were seen by medical. You’d also ensure that your Sailor was on track with their treatment to get back to full duty.
There are two key things the leaders do. First, they are aware of what is going on with their subordinates and, second, they support them in their treatment. The knee injury is kind of easy because it is visible. The stress injury can be more difficult. Being aware of what is going on with your people takes a little more effort. First you have to get to know them, earn their trust and then develop the ability to pick up on subtle signs and behaviors. This is where the stress continuum can help. It gives you some categories and a list of behaviors as a sort of cheat sheet to check yourself. If you think someone needs help, support their effort to find the right help and make sure they stick to a treatment program. It’s not easy to find the balance between respecting privacy and knowing when to intervene, but the extra effort will be worth it.
It doesn’t matter whether your people are hurting physically or mentally. When they are hurt, we need to be able to pick up on it and then make sure they get the help they need. You don’t have to be the therapist, but you just have to make sure they are able to get to the one they need.
Captain Hammer is the director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Prior to being the director of DCoE, Capt. Hammer served as the director of the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control at the Naval Medical Center (also known as NCCOSC), San Diego, California. Captain Hammer has personally trained thousands of service members in operational stress control, psychological health and traumatic brain injury topics.