By Tech. Sgt. Victor J. Caputo | 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — When I was a bright-eyed, young Airman eight or nine years ago, one of the first stories I was tasked with writing was about the base mental health clinic. One of the technicians I interviewed kind of hesitantly asked me why I was bothering writing a story about them, but I didn’t understand him.
“Why wouldn’t we do a story about you guys?” I said.
“Well, nobody likes going to mental health,” the technician replied. “People would rather go untreated than come here.”
That single comment really impacted me.
I started to pay attention to what other people said about seeing mental health and was shocked at how many Airmen shared that mindset. A lot of the people I talked to really thought going to mental health was an instant career killer, and impressionable little Airman 1st Class Caputo figured that must be based in fact.
Fast forward several years.
I’m sitting in my car in my office parking lot trying to come up with a reason to not leave base and drive head-on into an 18-wheeler, ending it all. Luckily for me, I was able to get a hold of a close friend who talked me down.
That one suicidal ideation made me realize my career wouldn’t matter if I was dead. Even if all of the rumors were true, I would rather see the mental health clinic and separate from the Air Force than just stop existing, so I made an appointment and began therapy for some time.
The therapy made an immediate and significant positive impact in my life. I’ve seen two different therapists through my time and both have genuinely helped me understand myself, my issues and develop the mental tools to counter negative thoughts.
Everything seemed to be on the upswing and I could finally focus on my career again, but I insisted on being stubborn and ignored my therapist’s advice to try an antidepressant. No matter what I did or how positively I tried to approach my life, I was still miserable. After much discussion with people close to me, I decided to trust my therapist and try an antidepressant.
I will probably see that decision as the turning point in my life. The wool was removed from my eyes, and I felt like a real person for maybe the first time ever.
Of course, that first medication had some serious side effects, like making me sleep more than 12 hours a day. It took several months of trying different medications, and I won’t lie: it was really difficult and did briefly affect parts of my career.
I temporarily received a medical code on my records that prevented me from receiving PCS orders or applying for a base of preference. One particular medication emotionally numbed me to the point I couldn’t even enjoy playing with my dog.
Once I found the one that worked for me, though, all of the struggle, all of the doubt, every little barrier became worth it. I am a more complete person now than I ever have been in my life.
The combination of therapy, guided inward reflection and proper medication has opened up an entire spectrum of emotion that I didn’t know existed. Using those emotions and understanding how other people feel them has made me not only a better, more complete person but also a more competent, confident noncommissioned officer, someone who can actually connect with their troops.
The best part of seeking help? Since I first stepped into the clinic, I’ve deployed, made rank, received multiple awards and decorations, gone on multiple TDYs, been involved around the base and received good performance reports. All those people who said my career would be killed if I went to mental health were wrong; the thing that really would have killed my career is if I had killed myself.
I owe the success I’ve had in my Air Force career and the joy I find in my personal life to the amazing care I’ve received from the team at the mental health clinic. I know for a fact I would not be here right now if I hadn’t asked for help and could not be more grateful that I did.
If you’re experiencing issues with depression, anxiety, or unusual amounts of stress, please reach out to your mental health clinic. While this avenue is what worked for me, there are many sources you can utilize across the Air Force, such as Military Family and Life Counselors, Preservation of the Force and Family providers, Military One Source and so many more.
Editor’s note: This commentary reflects the author’s personal experiences seeking mental health treatment. His experience is not necessarily reflective of any other individual’s experiences, which can vary due to any number of factors, including past experiences, family history, AFSC, or special qualifications. We still encourage everyone to take care of themselves so that they have the opportunity to lead a happy, successful Air Force life.