Reducing stigma through outreach: A mental health technician’s experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

In the time that passes while waiting for an appointment at a military clinic, Airmen and families may wonder who the people are behind the constant appeals encouraging the care of mind and body.

With five years of experience, Senior Airman Brandon Haag, a 375th Medical Group Mental Health Technician, is one of those people who assist the 8,000 patients who come to this clinic annually in matters that are not tangible.

The mission is to help individuals seeking help to get back to feeling 100 percent healthy, and that doesn’t have to be just physical recovery.
“Our job is to get people the help that they need, and then return them to duty as soon as possible,” he said.

This Walkerton, Indiana, native says that the stigma attached to seeking help from the mental health clinic has become less of an issue over time.

“The people with a pre-conceived notion of going to see mental health are individuals who have been in the military a while, so that mindset is phasing out. It’s just becoming more acceptable as a society to seek help for stressors or issues.”

Some of the daily tasks Haag and his coworkers take on include helping providers communicate with patients, maintaining records, conducting patient intakes and psychological testing, and supporting Scott Air Force Base with their services through visit outreach and briefings.

Senior Airman Cody Ingram, a fellow technician, said that they do briefings about three days a week, including briefings for reintegration for returning deployers, the First Term Airman Center, and base newcomers, to name a few. Doing visit outreach with the squadrons is something he believes is especially effective.

“I like doing outreach, where a technician and a provider go out to different squadrons and just get people comfortable with talking to us,” Ingram said. “We’ve had people come in to the clinic that told us they never would have come in had it not been for the visit.”

Haag said he has gained additional skills that will transcend his time in the Air Force. He has learned about understanding and communicating with people, such as learning to use motivational interviewing, and how to tactfully ask questions that may be tough to answer.

Technicians learn with experience about overcoming these conversational barriers, such as the instance where an Airman is asking a senior NCO what’s going on in his family life, Haag said.

“We ask what is going on that has brought someone in, any stressors or traumatic events they are experiencing,” Haag said. “Can you imagine being a 40-year-old and potentially have someone your kid’s age ask you what’s going on in your family life? That’s the nature of the job.”

It’s a personal moment, and the technicians call upon their utmost professionalism and people skills to best help the patient prior to seeing a provider.

Haag said one way to build rapport with a patient is to find common ground, whether it’s a TV show, talking about current events, or hobbies. He is self-declared computer geek, so at times he’s built a conversation over that interest to break the ice with patients.

“When people open up, it gives me a sense of reassurance, to know what’s going on with people, and as humans we’re naturally curious with everything that’s going on in other’s lives,” Haag said.

Discovering what is at the root of a patient’s issue only part of the treatment. He’s been in this field long enough to know what to ask to be able to effectively help patients and providers.

Haag said this career field teaches a lot about people and how stressors affect them and their families, and that’s some life experience he can take with him anywhere he goes.