FORT POLK, La. –
Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital hosted Northwestern State University nursing students for a Mental Illness Awareness Week health promotions display on Oct. 6 at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The students, all military spouses, conducted the event at BJACH as a course requirement for their associate of science in nursing degree.
Maria Cabrera-Gonzalez, said this assignment was their service-learning project.
"Basically, we are going out into the community to provide education," she said. "We chose to highlight behavioral health related topics because it coincided with what we've been learning about this semester. This week is National Mental Illness Week and Oct. 6 is National Depression Screening Day."
Tracie Graves, said they wanted to do their project at BJACH because it is where they receive their care and they wanted to present useful information to members of their community.
"Our ultimate goal is educating Soldiers, spouses and retirees about mental illnesses, positive coping mechanisms and healthy treatment options available to them," she said. "Essentially we wanted to highlight signs and symptoms, holistic care, therapeutic communication techniques and coping skills for these common behavioral health concerns."
The student's project focused on seasonal affective, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Mary Jimenz, said the semester's course work focused on psychiatric and mental health related topics.
"We felt these topics were perfect for our community," she said. "We move a lot, which can put a lot of stress on military families. Moving can cause a lot of anxiety, and moving from one climate to another can cause season affective disorders."
Lt. Col. Alexander Ragan, installation director for psychological health and the chief of the behavioral health department at BJACH, said he thought the students Mental Illness Awareness Week presentation was insightful, well thought-out and creative.
"It gave good information on resources, as well as symptoms of significant mental conditions that many suffer from," he said. "Education on SAD is timely, as winter approaches many suffer from it as the hours of daylight diminish. Anxiety affects countless individuals and can become debilitating. OCD is a mental health condition that often is misunderstood. Those affected by it often suffer in silence. The strategic pause for mental illness awareness week gives us all an opportunity to learn about these common conditions, and how to get help for them."
Ragan said it's mutually beneficial for both BJACH and the university to work together whenever possible.
"Hospitals traditionally have a significant role with students," he said. "All providers that work in hospitals at one time or another were nurtured by professionals to grow and have opportunities to present information they learn in the classroom. This was a great partnership with these military spouses as they complete their medical education and share their knowledge with our community."
Jimenz said their display provided beneficiaries with techniques and resources to help those suffering from anxiety, SAD and OCD.
"Counting backwards is one technique that is useful when someone is experiencing anxiety," she said. "Usually when you have anxiety your brain is in overdrive. Counting down and pausing helps bring your mind into the present; focusing on what is going on right now and not thinking about those things that are causing your anxiety."
Cabrera-Gonzalez said they hope to reduce the stigma about mental health through their presentation.
"A lot of people don't like to talk about mental health," she said. "We thought this was a good opportunity to talk about it. Knowledge is power, having a better understanding about these conditions through education and resources will hopefully reduce the stigma associated with seeking help when needed."
Graves said, preparing for the project was a great learning opportunity for them as well.
"I knew what SAD was before we started this project, but only thought it was a winter thing," she said. "I learned it can also affect people in the spring and summer. If you don't like the heat, you may not be going outside and that can have a negative effect on your overall wellbeing and quality of life."
All three students have different motivators for pursuing nursing. Graves, a former U.S. Army combat medic, knew she would pursue a medical degree upon leaving the military.
"Going for my nursing degree was an obvious next step for me," she said. "The nursing programs at NSU are excellent for military families and veterans."