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News | Dec. 6, 2021

BJACH behavioral health provider resource for SOTD

By Jean Graves

Dr. Vincent Escandell, PhD, clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist from Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital conducted a briefing titled; Hijacking the Amygdala, Dec. 2, for the Special Operations Training Detachment at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.

The amygdala (ah-MIG-dah-la) is a part of the brain’s limbic system that activates the fight-or-flight response. According to Escandell, in combat the instinctual, emotional response to fear, anxiety or aggression is natural and appropriate, but at home it is not. Amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala activates the fight-or-flight response when there is no serious threat to a person’s safety. During amygdala hijack, the person may not be able to develop a rational response.

The briefing was designed to give Soldiers the tools to understand when that emotional response is triggered and how to manage the stressors at home in an appropriate manner.

Lt. Col. Clifton Lopez, commander, SOTD said the unit coordinated with Escandell to provide quarterly training.

“We are engaging with behavioral health specialists, spiritual consultants and things of that nature,” he said. “We want to round out our Soldiers as individuals for mission and personal readiness.”

Lopez said Escandell is available in person, via phone and virtually to the unit here and the Soldiers stationed at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.

“What we try to do is bring in Dr. Escandell to talk about specific paradigms,” he said. “This one was about the battle mind. What happens with your family, your spouse, your kids and yourself post deployment. We’ve asked him to do TED talk style briefings around specific topics each quarter.”

Eschandell said failure to recognize when the amygdala takes over can lead to a variety of psychiatric conditions such as: anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobia, panic disorders, depression and schizophrenia.

“Understanding the signs, symptoms and triggers of the amygdala take over will help prevent it from happening,” he said. “If you have anxiety or fearful moments you can do something about it. Ask yourself; what am I thinking? What am I feeling? What do I want now? How am I getting in my own way? What do I need to do differently? Thinking about something and asking these questions reduce the emotions triggered by the amygdala by engaging the thinking part of our brains. This will help reduce the anger, aggression or fear you are feeling in the moment.”

Maj. Marshal McGurk, lead observer controller trainer for SOTD, said having Eschandell provide quarterly briefings and engaging regularly with the unit is beneficial.

“After his first briefing several of us have asked for him to come back on a regular basis around our rotational schedule,” he said. “The reason is because we are a smaller Special Forces population here. At our parent Special Forces groups we have dedicated behavioral health support that is there co-located with the group headquarters that are trained specifically to work with us.”

McGurk said being at Fort Polk, away from their parent unit, they had received feedback from Soldiers in the detachment that they were unsure where to go or who to talk to for behavioral health related issues.

“Knowing we have Dr. Eschandell who we can trust and can work with our community specifically is important,” he said. “The most important thing for our community is transparency and awareness and the more folks who know we are here the better.”

Escandell, an Army and Air Force veteran has served military service members and veterans throughout his career.

“After I retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs, I knew I could continue to serve the active duty population,” he said. “I’ve been at BJACH almost three years and I come talk to the Special Forces Detachment on a monthly basis. If I know the Soldiers and they know me it makes it easier for them to come in and see me when they are struggling with something. ”

Escandell said maintaining balance in your life is very important for Soldiers. Being physically and cognitively healthy is important but so is emotional and social health, that’s where the behavioral health department at BJACH can help.

Editor’s Note: A TED is dedicated to researching and sharing knowledge that matters through short talks and presentations. The goal is to inform and educate global audiences in an accessible way. TED Conferences LLC is an American media organization that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". TED was conceived by Richard Saul Wurman, who co-founded it with Harry Marks in February 1984 as a conference; it has been held annually since 1990.
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