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Home : News : News
NEWS | May 23, 2024

Mental Health Awareness Month: U.S. Army South spouse champions mental health

By Maj. Nadine Wiley De Moura U.S. Army South Public Affairs

 May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to shedding light on mental health issues, reducing stigma, and promoting the resources available for those in need. For many, mental health is an invisible battle, one that requires understanding, support, and proper care.

This month is particularly significant for military communities, where mental health challenges are prevalent due to the unique stresses of military life.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Reyna Armel, a Brooke Army Medical Center social work intern and U.S. Army South spouse has dedicated her career to making a difference in the behavioral health field.

"As a commander, I saw a lot of my Soldiers needing help, getting into trouble, or waiting months for assistance," said Armel, who initially planned to leave the military to pursue a career in providing therapy.

“This inspired my career decision and fueled my desire to be part of the other side of the fight, helping Soldiers directly by providing mental health support from within the system."

Armel was initially commissioned into the Army as an ordinance officer and waived her promotion to captain to meet the program requirements for the Army University of Kentucky Masters in Social Work program.

Armel's internship at Brooke Army Medical Center will culminate in her becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and military behavioral health officer.

“Getting through that MSW program shows that you're going to be able to get through our internship fairly well,” said U.S. Army Maj. Luke Randall, BAMC behavioral health officer and Armel’s program supervisor.

“I was very excited to know that she was able to get the community experiences at the state hospital and the veteran’s clinic,” said Randall, adding that her prior internships provided experiences with mental illness not commonly seen in the military such as schizophrenia, manic and bipolar disorder.

“I'm excited to get through this next couple of years with her and see how she continues to progress and prepare to be a BHO”.

Success in the behavioral health field is measured not only by patient outcomes but also by the professional growth of those entering the field.

"I've had moments where I've seen patients reframe their negative outlook and find relief," Randall said.

“Additionally, I find immense satisfaction in mentoring interns through their clinical exams and into their careers, contributing to the broader impact on mental health care within the military community.”

Her diverse experience in inpatient psychiatric units and veteran clinics has provided her with a broad perspective and foundation to administer care during her current internship.

"Everyone is unique, and even evidence-based protocols need to be adapted to fit individual needs," said Armel, a native of Brentwood, California. “This flexibility is crucial in providing effective therapy tailored to each person's specific circumstances.”

In the meantime, while she completes her program, Armel, remains a strong advocate of mental health awareness in her own life, at work and in her marriage.

"Mental health is like the most important muscle in your body," Armel said.

"If you don't work it or if it's injured, it's invisible. Without the awareness of what those injuries look like and how to address them, you don't know where to start."

There is a critical need for trained professionals who can guide individuals through their mental health journeys, much like personal trainers help with physical fitness, Armel added.

Armel and her supervisor pointed out that a crucial part of Mental Health Awareness Month is highlighting the resources available. Despite the abundance of support systems, many remain underutilized. Programs like Military OneSource offer not just financial advice but also individual therapy and marriage counseling, yet they are often overlooked for mental health support.

Chaplains and Military Family Life Counselors (MFLACs) are also invaluable resources that Soldiers may not immediately consider.

“One notable resource is the non-documented support provided by MFLACs,” Armel said.

“They don't take notes, essentially just setting appointments without keeping records.”

Randall expressed that anonymity can help those hesitant about seeking therapy due to fears of it appearing in their records.

“It is an excellent starting point for those hesitant to seek formal therapy,” Randall said. “You can go for 12 sessions per issue. If your issue involves trauma, the MFLAC therapist can help you with a warm handoff to more specialized care.”

Preventative care is just as important as treatment, Armel stressed.

"You need to have a support system,” Armel said. "Talk to people you trust, engage in activities, and develop coping skills."

Both officers promoted the three-tiered approach of regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep as the best way to maintain a strong mental fitness foundation.

“Engaging in enjoyable activities and having a few trusted confidants can significantly bolster one's mental health before a crisis hits,” Armel said.

Care of those who care for others is vital, said Armel pointing out that she too implements the three-tiered approach to maintain her own resilience.

"Absorbing stress from others can be challenging," Armel said. 

“You can't do any job by yourself. Even single parents need a full support system. And if they didn't exist, you would break down eventually,” said Armel, adding that the support of her military spouse has been a crucial piece of her support system.

“With him being military also, he gets it so whatever kind of communication helps – we identify each other’s buzzwords. Both of us have found that our biggest coping is planning. So we've got a big Excel sheet with all of our futures and goals.”

Armel, and her husband U.S. Army Capt. Isaac Armel, U.S. Army South information officer, highlighted their applied resilience as a key factor in their successes.

“Reyna is my forever battle buddy,” Armel said. “Resiliency is important to me because dual military spouses have their own sets of challenges and seasons of hardships.”

Both of us have an internal call to serve our country, and our military values allow us to understand forecast plans and execute the best course of action for our Family, Isaac added.

Armel also draws from the experiences of those in her support system to navigate dual military spouse life while completing her internship.

Her parents are a dual military spouse couple who have been married for 22 years and she references Army women and spouse support social media groups when looking for inspiration.

“There are always hundreds of comments on there of people who say, I did it and it was okay, or 'Hey, I used this app,' or 'We went here',” said Armel.

“There's always going to be somebody out there that has done it. Again, with that three-pronged approach building a strong support system is essential.”

In her current role, Armel stresses the importance of making resources known and accessible, especially given the transient nature of military life which can often lead to feelings of isolation.

“Whether dealing with anxiety, depression, or the general stresses of military life, knowing where to find help can be crucial,” Armel said.

In the future, Armel plans to pursue her doctoral degree and work with children, families and special populations that can reach more people at once.

“If you can talk to two people, a couple for instance, then you're going to hit three people at least because they're going to be a parent,” Armel said.

“If you can teach those two people how to communicate, how to build that crisis network, then you're going to be able to reach more people because the behavioral health function in itself is stretched thin.”

Her commitment to supporting her fellow Soldiers and her proactive approach to mental health serve as an inspiration and a reminder of the critical need for ongoing mental health awareness and support.

“I knew that I always wanted to do therapy because my favorite part of every job that I have done was the people,” said Armel, adding that the Army can be challenging but people stay for the people and the shared memories.

“But if the people are injured and they're not 100%, you have a problem and there's nothing they are staying in for. So, I'm here to kind of make sure the people stay at their 100%.”