The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

The Importance of Mental Health in Uniform

Wild Blue Yonder / Maxwell AFB, AL --

As humans, our mental health is important. As a military member it is even more so. “Life in the military can be stressful for anyone from an Airman to a general officer.”1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mental health as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.”2 It plays a major role in many aspects of a person’s life, including “how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”3 Many times, mental health and mental illness are used interchangeably; however, they are not the same thing.

“Mental illnesses are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behavior.”4 Examples of mental illnesses are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. With mental illness being among the most common health conditions in the United States, more than 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed over their lifetime. Additionally, 1 in 5 Americans will experience some form of a mental illness each year.5 Our military members are no exception to this statistic. The August 2019 edition of the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report included the Department of Defense’s 2018 “Health of the Force” study, which “found that mental health appointments among active-duty troops accounted for roughly 16% of all military medical appointments, or 1.8 million outpatient visits.”6 It is important to note that “a person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.”7 While these are mental health appointments, there is no indication of how many patients walked away with a mental illness diagnosis. The appointments, however, are just as important, because as stated previously, mental health affects various aspects of performance. The Air Force has already made it evident that mental health is important. In fact, “the Air Force’s Comprehensive Airman Fitness program includes mental wellness as one of the four pillars of wellness.”8

Video conferencing from home
Danielle Frank, a military spouse, uses video conferencing technology to stay in contact with family during COVID-19 quarantine, Gresham, Oregon March 27. Staying connected while practicing social distancing is crucial to the mental well-being of Airmen and their families.
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Alexander Frank
VIRIN: 200327-Z-WT152-9001


(US Air National Guard photo by SSgt Alexander Frank, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Figure 1. Weathering COVID-19: mental resilience. Danielle Frank, a military spouse, uses video-conferencing technology to stay in contact with family during COVID-19 quarantine, Gresham, Oregon, 27 March 2020. Staying connected while practicing social distancing is crucial to the mental well-being of Airmen and their families.

The question remains, if mental health is being stressed in the Air Force, why did we just have one of the highest suspected suicide rates last year? Back in January, an article from Stars and Stripes stated:

The Air Force had 137 suspected suicides last year, the highest number since the service began tracking suicide in 2008, officials said Friday. The 2019 figure includes active duty, reserve, guard and Air Force civilians and compares to 103 suicides across the service in 2018 — a 33% increase.9

This could just be because of the nature of the job, or it could be an indication there is something that has gone severely wrong. The military in general is a high-stress environment, with the significant possibility of service members seeing combat. Not knowing how to cope with these environments can lead to poor mental health and eventually mental illnesses. Trauma, history of abuse, genetics, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, feeling lonely, and isolation are all causes of mental illnesses. This means that many military personnel are at risk, as one or more of these applies to them.

As stressors build, so does the likelihood of someone developing poor mental health. If someone is being overworked and then must go home and care for a sick relative or is experiencing financial issues and is not getting good rest at night, they may experience poor mental health.10 Oftentimes, military members will not get help out of fear of it impacting their career negatively.11 The fact of the matter is, the medical professionals cannot disclose any of the medical information to the commanding officers. There is a list of nine circumstances where information disclosure is required by Department of Defense Instruction 6490.08.12

Back in 2014, then–Lt Col Wendy Travis, the chief of mental health policy and program evaluation with the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, Lackland Air Force Base, stated, “The earlier you seek assistance for problems, the easier the problems are to treat and the less impact those problems have on you and those you love.”13 Travis also made the statement that “most of the people who come to the mental health clinic do not fall under these categories, especially if they come early - when the problems first get to be difficult.”14 These statements are backed up with evidence.

In 2006, a study was published that showed “97 percent of Airmen who sought mental health care voluntarily—before problems are noticed by commanders or other community members—did not experience any negative career impact.”15 That study was conducted more than a decade ago, and whether it holds true today is uncertain. However, individuals, military or not, should always seek help when their mental health is at risk, and we all need to look out for one another.

Cadet Samantha Beck

Cadet Beck a sophomore from AFROTC Detachment 915, attending West Virginia University (WVU). She is currently enrolled in their honors program, studying mechanical engineering and is a summer hire for the US Army Corps of Engineers. She is involved in the Silver Wings chapter at WVU and plans to graduate and commission in May 2022 as an engineer in the US Air Force.


1 Nicolas Z. Erwin, “Breaking Down the Image: Mental Health,” Air Force Medical Service, 21 May 2018,

2 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Learn About Mental Health,” 26 January 2018,

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Patricia Kime, “Mental Health Disorders in Troops Far Below National Average,”, 4 September 2019,

7 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Learn About Mental Health.”

8 Larine Barr, “Air Force Mental Health Programs Encourage Seeking Help,” U.S. Air Force, 28 May 2014,

9 Jennifer H. Svan, “Air Force Saw Record Suicide Rate in 2019,” Stars and Stripes, 31 January 2020,

10 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Learn About Mental Health.”

11 Barr, “Air Force Mental Health Programs.”

12 Psychological Health Center of Excellence, “Disclosure of Protected Health Information,”

13 Barr, “Air Force Mental Health Programs.”

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.

Wild Blue Yonder Home