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When First Sgt. Simon Sandoval lost two Marines in his platoon during a deployment to Iraq, the loss gnawed at him.
“How did everything get so messed up? Was it my fault? Could I have done this differently?” he asked himself.
Eventually, he began drinking heavily, lost interest in maintaining his health, and pulled away from family and friends.
These invisible wounds can be the hardest to heal. They are certainly some of the hardest to talk about. Booz Allen Hamilton's work on the web-based Real Warriors Campaign, a program of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), is helping change that, along with addressing the stigma of seeking care among the military community.
“It’s a public service initiative designed to encourage service members, veterans, and military families to seek care for psychological health concerns,” explains Katie Duthaler, Booz Allen's deputy project manager.
Think of it as an integrated marketing campaign around a social good initiative—where the sum of its efforts are greater than the individual parts—seamlessly integrating Internet content, videos, social media, (Twitter, Facebook), free print resources, and a photo-sharing mobile application. The campaign’s social media channels alone garner more than 160,000 fans and followers.
It also puts care resources at the fingertips of service members. Content shared by the campaign includes ways for audiences to seek care or learn about additional support resources, including the DCoE Outreach Center, the Military Crisis Line, TRICARE, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But it goes further than that. The campaign also fosters an important virtual connection—a digital community of camaraderie and endless support.
Videos are the heart of the campaign, as real stories of those who sought care strike a personal chord with the target audience—18- to 29-year-old service members. These videos demonstrate that people just like them are getting treatment and are still able to progress in their careers and succeed in life. Viewable via the campaign’s website, videos are accessible any time, from any location, including overseas via the American Forces Radio Television Service.
They show that reaching out is a sign of strength.
“The people sharing their profiles through this campaign are proving, through example, that service members are going on to have successful careers in the military after seeking care. They’re better family members and they’re better warriors for getting the help they needed,” says Katie. “Service members wanted to see themselves, and they wanted to see success. They don’t just want to hear that seeking care worked.”
The videos are intensely personal, and explore the complex emotions surrounding combat stress and other mental health concerns. It goes without saying that it takes incredible courage to openly share these stories.
Simon shared his personal account, which is featured on the campaign’s website and demonstrated how by opening up and seeking help, he was able to turn his life back around.
“It’s therapeutic,” says Lt. Col. Chris Curtin in the same video. “I think by talking about it, it helps. On the flip side, the Marines he’s talking to benefit as well. If he can talk about this, then [they think], ‘There is nothing that can stop me from doing it as well.’”
The message is resonating with service members.
“We asked our audience to make a pledge that, ‘I can, I will reach out for help,’” says Booz Allen Project Manager Rick Black describing an “I Can, I Will’” mini-campaign. “We are seeing and hearing that this matters.”
A recent case in point: A service member who lost a brother in combat saw one of the videos featuring GySgt. Mathew Barr and shared it with his entire family. They were so inspired by what they saw they decided to seek grief counseling together.
“The people sharing their profiles through this campaign are proving, through example, that service members are going on to have successful careers in the military after seeking care. They’re better family members and they’re better warriors for getting the help they needed.”
- Katie Duthaler, Booz Allen deputy project manager
“Military life is rewarding, but it isn’t always easy,” service members share in another Real Warriors Campaign video. The message is clear: Those suffering don’t have to go it alone.
“I can. I will keep my mind and body fit,” they promise the viewer. “I can. I will be there for my buddies, no matter what. Be there for our veterans, no matter what.”
Launching in 2009 with the goal of reducing the stigma associated with getting help and informing the military community of available resources, the campaign took on an additional mission in over the last 3 years of increasing knowledge and awareness of common psychological health concerns.
“Stigma is not the only barrier to care that we see within the military community. There’s also a lack of understanding surrounding what psychological health concerns are, and what kinds of treatments are available,” says Katie. “It’s not PTSD or nothing. It’s not combat stress or nothing.”
Part of the Deployment Health Clinical Center in the DCoE organization, the campaign also boasts an impressive partner network. It’s comprised of government agencies and not-for-profits—local, regional, and national—from the Navy Suicide Prevention and Operational Stress Control Branch and the not-for-profit Give an Hour to service dog and alternative therapy organizations.
More proof that help is only a click, or phone call, away.