What Mental Health Challenges Do Uniformed Forces Face?
People serving in any of the forces have a broad job description that extends from maintaining peace and order, protecting the borders, curbing riots and violence, fighting terrorism, bearing the brunt of administrative loopholes, and even working in the most difficult situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. The working environment of these individuals is characterized by high stress, low autonomy, lesser workplace control, long job hours, difficult postings away from family, and constant exposure to threats. They are sometimes even transferred to places where they get completely isolated and deprived of basic necessities as well. Establishing regular contact with friends and family is seldom possible for them. Witnessing the death of a fellow officer or knocking on heaven’s door themselves is a common sight while on duty. Although their respective departments focus on maintaining physical health, their mental well-being is often overlooked. They are trained to build resistance in order to serve better in every condition. Their salaries may seem lucrative but often fail to suffice for the hardships they endure. The ground-level personnel accounting for the majority of the workforce, mostly remain in the background and their efforts rarely find any recognition. They lie at the lower hierarchy of the tightly structured command and control system and are expected to ensure discipline, and accountability, thereby sticking to their job role at all times. Expressing mental health concerns to their colleagues or seniors is viewed as a sign of “weakness” in the case of uniformed forces due to the stigma associated with it. Also, the “macho-man” image keeps personnel from drawing attention to the theme of mental health. However, doing so proves to be much more damaging and detrimental to the overall health of the individuals. As a result, they tend to display strong signs of stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and aggression overtime and are prone to developing some or the other mental illness like Panic Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Substance Use Disorders and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). This in turn impacts their quality of life and deteriorates their psychological states.
How The Departmental Machinery Could Help:
1. Work environment: Good working conditions can help maintain a healthy environment and ensure sound mental health on and off the field.
2. Prioritizing health: Ensuring sufficient leaves on grounds of health and taking into account health concerns rather than ignoring them is important.
3. Allowances and housing: Providing all the necessary amenities like housing and allowances for the personnel and their families can to a certain level relieve them from the stress of not being physically present to support their families.
4. Fostering trust and communication: Increased communication within the department through initiatives like Sampark Sabhas where common issues faced could be discussed will not only build trust but also give way to horizontal communication.
5. Reward and recognition: Rewarding the personnel through positive reinforcements can motivate them to do better and instill a sense of purpose and loyalty towards their duties.
6. Organizing events: Organizing sports and cultural programs are known to increase bonhomie and promote brotherhood that is carried even on-field.
7. Catering to mental health needs: Mental health assessment on a regular basis through professionals will drive away the stigma and taboo encompassing mental health.
Tips For Personnel to Maintain Their Own Mental Health:
(a) Talking about your issues with family and friends will help you feel at ease as they may understand your problems allowing you a safe space to express your vulnerable side.
(b) Reach out to veterans who have had similar experiences and learn coping strategies from them.
(c) Buddy debriefing or talking about your traumatic experiences with your peers can be an effective way of dealing with it.
(e) Regular exercise keeps both your mind and body healthy and proves to be a refreshing activity after a long work day.
(f) Normalize talking about mental health concerns and seeking help from mental health practitioners.
(g) Be receptive to your feelings and emotions instead of avoiding or repressing them.