True North program embeds mental health resilience at Yokota

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Lackey
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The True North program, a U.S. Air Force chartered mental health initiative, has been steadily increasing the number of embedded providers at units across the base since the first program manager arrived at Yokota in March, 2021.

The True North mission is to provide highly accessible social workers and chaplains who limited counseling to uniformed unit members, promote positive help-seeking culture, teach resilience skills, and act as guides to helping members get elevated care when needed.

“The goal here is to help resolve personal problems before it becomes a mental health crisis,” said Nereda Davila-Amaya, True North program manager. “Our work aims to prevent crisis. Life and work stresses can be compounded in a military environment, especially when serving abroad. We work hand-in-hand with the medical group mental health providers to provide easy, low-level care to service members. This effort has already seen a positive effect on the demand for mental health services, easing the burden on Mental Health Flight and allowing them to focus more on those most in need.”

Units that are found to be ‘high-risk’ for work and life stressors are afforded an additional provider, such as the 374th Maintenance Group and the 374th Security Forces Squadron, yet all the True North providers work together with the 374th Medical Group Mental Health Flight and commanders across the base.

“These [True North] counselors aren’t a one-trick pony,” said Master Sgt. Landen Sifferlin, 374th Wing Staff Agencies first sergeant. “They are involved at every level from providing council to unit leadership, to promoting resiliency classes with teams, and even cheering us on during physical training. Leadership asks for them to help regularly, as they are true ‘aces’ in our team.”

True North program’s ‘limited scope’ counseling is designed to be a comfortable, shame-free option for service members and works to destigmatize seeking out help for personal problems.

“I have found that service members can feel anxious going to the mental health clinic, of going on record for something personal,” Davila-Amaya said. “We’re not scary, people can trust our licensed clinical social workers to keep conversations private and to talk off-record without an appointment. We guide people to a resolution or appropriate higher level care they may need medically, spiritually, financially or any other concern.”

The first member of the Yokota True North team arrived last year, but the majority of providers arrived in April, so the program is only now fully underway. The team consists of two program managers and seven providers, with three additional providers arriving by the end of the year.

Resiliency is a proactive effort to strengthen mental health, spiritual strength and self-confidence. Empowering Airmen through efforts, like the True North program, helps the Air Force retain skilled Airmen and greatly improves mission execution through personal readiness.

If you are interested in speaking with True North social worker, contact your unit’s 1st Sergeant or command section for more details.