Yokota True North provider and her “Ikigai”

  • Published
  • By Rochelle Phelps; Edited by Airman 1st Class Jarrett Smith
  • 374th Airlift Wing Wing Staff Agencies

I feel like helping others is my life calling, my “Ikigai” 

Each year, we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month to raise awareness about and normalize mental health struggles. It’s a great reminder to check in with yourself and each other and reinforce healthy coping strategies. It is also a time to intentionally reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and seeking mental health services.

I have worked as a therapist for over 25 years, first with children and now with adults. More specifically, my daily duties include providing counseling to military members and spending dedicated time in the unit I am embedded in. I have the privilege of getting to know everyone and truly understanding the ebb and flow of each agency’s tempo. Being embedded helps me, help them, by knowing when our team–Airmen and civilians alike–might need extra support. 

For those of you reading who haven’t heard of True North, it is a resilience program that assigns mental health providers and religious support teams directly to Air Force squadrons, giving service members increased access to care. I was drawn to the True North model of embedded service provision and thought the concept was fantastic.

Life is full of challenges 

Throughout my life, I’ve had first-hand experience with some of the extreme highs and lows and I can relate to what others may be going through. Sometimes when we are going through life’s challenges, it can feel like we’re all alone in those feelings, but I’m here to remind you that we’re not alone at all.

Some days, you can find me in the Mental Health clinic providing services or participating in a commander’s call, but other days you can find me just passing out chocolate and checking in with people, because sometimes that’s all we need. I also provide education and training through workshops or classes on a wide variety of topics, such as Stress Management, both in my unit and through Yokota University.

Military members especially experience a lot of pressure to perform well, and many times they haven’t learned or don’t rely on healthy coping strategies when life gets tough. There is a pressure to take on additional duties to improve their performance reports, pressure to stay in shape, pressure to do more with less resources, the list goes on. This pressure can compound and affect their personal relationships. Then, in Japan, there is the geographical separation, different language, and different customs. It is a lot to take on! This can cause some folks to experience anxiety or symptoms of depression.   

Recently, I had a young Airman who was experiencing a lot of anxiety about failure. They spent a lot of time in their head with cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions involve negative thinking patterns that aren’t based on fact or reality. We discussed this over the course of two or three sessions and they slowly realized that they had the ability to choose what to think. Their anxiety symptoms decreased and they began to feel and function better.

We’re here for you too

True North can help members function at their very best so the mission can continue to be accomplished daily. We must remember that without the health of our people, there is no mission–and that includes mental health. I understand there are still stigmas surrounding mental health services and seeking help, but the Yokota providers are right here with you to help ease some of the fear associated with those stigmas.

People, in general, are more likely to seek out services from someone they are familiar with, so the driving benefit of embedded True North providers is the increased likelihood of our teammates reaching out for support.

If you or someone in your unit needs assistance, the first thing I would recommend is to talk to your True North provider. We can help determine if someone requires intervention or treatment, some information and resources, or simply a listening ear. If a unit doesn’t currently have a True North provider, then going to the Chapel or the Military & Family Life Counselors at the Military & Family Readiness Center is also a good option.

Remember this, the first step is the hardest. Taking that leap of faith is a very courageous thing, especially in the military. But once you start the process, you're already one step closer to being in the right headspace.