This post is the third in a new series of guest conversations called Voices on Mental Health. I am honored to showcase inspirational people with unique and important perspectives on mental illness.
Our third conversation is with Marjorie Morrison, LFMD, LPCC. She is the founder and CEO of PsychArmor, a nonprofit that provides free education and support for all Americans to engage effectively with the military community. Marjorie spent more than a decade doing extensive work with service members as a civilian mental health provider in the San Diego area. PsychArmor Institute stemmed from her personal experience as she became familiar with the intricacies of military culture. I met her recently when we both served on the same panel at a mental health event here in Washington D.C. She is a highly creative and down-to-earth voice on how we can better support the men and women who have sacrificed to serve our country – especially when it comes to listening to and understanding their mental health needs. Marjorie is the author of the book, The Inside Battle: Our Military Mental Health Crisis, and has written numerous editorials on the field of military mental health featured in TIME, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post – to name a few. You can read more about her on the PsychArmor website or connect with her on Twitter.
1. First let’s do a little myth busting. What are some common misconceptions that non-military folks have about the mental health of our service men and women?
I’m so glad you asked, because PsychArmor’s cornerstone course is focused on that exact topic! We created “15 Things Veterans Want You to Know” to educate anyone who works with, lives with or cares for our military community. To create the course, we asked hundreds of Veterans what they wanted others to know about them. These comments were used to create this course, including five Questions You Should Always Ask Veterans, one Question You Should Never Ask Veterans, and 15 Facts that promote greater understanding of our Veterans. Our hope is that we’ll give people a new way of thinking about military culture – and the feedback we’ve received from those who’ve taken the course has shown that.
2. How does PsychArmor seek to bridge the civilian-military divide when it comes to mental health needs? What makes your approach unique and effective?
PsychArmor is the ONLY non-profit organization in the country exclusively dedicated to providing FREE education to all who work with, live with, or care for members of the military community. Whether you’re an employer, educator, caregiver, healthcare provider, volunteer or a community member interested in learning more about military culture, we have courses that are perfect for you.
PsychArmor is an online library where anyone can go, at any time, to get educated on a wide variety of military topics. Our educational training courses are broken up into short, self-paced modules so they fit into today’s busy schedules – and we’ve heard from so many people that spending 15-20 minutes taking one of our courses saved them hours of time in the long run. We’re also constantly responding to user feedback – we just launched a brand-new learning management system and website last week!
All PsychArmor courses are developed by nationally recognized subject matter experts, and we have several veterans and trained mental health providers on our staff. Everything we offer is evidence-based and clinically informed. We also use animation, gamification, embedded videos and simulations to make our course content immersive and engaging. We designed PsychArmor to be an intentional departure from the stuffy, plain PowerPoint presentations that too many people associate with training courses.
3. Tell us about the “1-5-15” challenge. How has this campaign helped to raise awarenessabout the lack of understanding with respect to the military community?
In the lead-up to the first Veterans Day after PsychArmor was founded, we created the 1-5- 15 challenge to encourage people to unite under ONE mission (for Americans to be competent in military and veteran culture), FIVE questions to ask veterans and FIFTEEN things veterans want you to know about them (the course I just talked about). The suggested questions to ask veterans were intended to start what we hope will be an on-going conversation between the 7 percent of Americans who’ve served and the remaining 93 percent of the population. I still recommend these questions when you’re not sure where to start:
Did you serve?
What was your job?
4. What are some practical ways that we can help veterans, both in our own communities and nationwide?
I firmly believe that everybody wants to help – they just don’t always know what to do. This was true for me. I started PsychArmor because, as a private mental health provider in the San Diego area who had no military experience, I was seeing a lot of members of the military community and I didn’t know what to do. More importantly, I didn’t realize I needed to know anything different about this community – but I did, and that was never more apparent than when I had the opportunity to work on base.
We have over 40,000 nonprofits supporting veterans, but there was nothing out there to support the unaffiliated population when I wanted to develop a deeper understanding about military culture and veterans’ issues. I saw a need, and that need led me to create PsychArmor.
The first step in learning how to support veterans is taking our “15 Things Veterans Want You to Know” course. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Just asking the question, “Did you serve?” can make such a difference.
Remember that veterans are tough, but they have the biggest hearts and have gone through huge sacrifices and a broad spectrum of emotions many, many times. Yes, they are hardened – but many of them take pride in this.
5. Can you share a standout moment that highlights why you are so passionate about helping veterans and their families connect with effective mental health treatment?
At our second annual Bridging the Gap Gala on April 6 in San Diego, we debuted a video that shared the benefit of PsychArmor’s courses. One of the women featured, Roxana Delgado, is a caregiver for her husband, SFC (Ret.) Victor Medina, an OIF/OEF Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient, after he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) back in 2009. She talks about her realization that her life would have been so much easier in such a difficult time if only PsychArmor had existed back when they were first adjusting to her husband’s TBI. At first, Roxana didn’t even realize she was a caregiver, let alone know where to go for support and trusted information.
Their story is one of many reasons why I’m so passionate about this work. If we can educate people about all aspects of the military experience, then they’ll be equipped and empowered to connect with effective mental health treatment; with employers who truly understand the return on investment for hiring and supporting veterans; with volunteer organizations who are eager to work with veterans. This is about even more than mental health. This is about overall quality of life.
6. What is your message (in a nutshell) to the average American about mental health needs among our service members?
Veterans experience unacceptable rates of unemployment, homelessness, and suicide. So often as a nation we attempt to fix these symptoms and tragic results, but fail to address the underlying mental health issues that led to them in the first place.
Members of the armed forces deserve our respect, and the absolute best care available. We need to support research to better understand the science of conditions including traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other brain illnesses. Many of the mental health needs of service members are more similar than you might think to the mental health needs of the wider community. I believe this is one area where we can really support each other.
But remember – one of the “15 things” is that not all veterans are living with PTS. It’s important that we don’t fall into the stereotypes or assumptions that can surround veterans’ mental health. Even more importantly, we must stand firm against the stigma that surrounds the discussion of mental health needs across society, but especially within the military community. We must do our part to start the conversation and show with our words and our actions that it’s okay – in fact, it’s critical – to ask for help and support.