“We all need it and deserve it. Not just people who have traumas. We’re all living in a pandemic in a violent world.” Lovella Calica, Bastion social worker
It might seem like an obvious statement, but considering the public stigma that still surrounds mental health, which can be even harsher for veterans, it’s worth repeating loudly and often. A recent Wounded Warrior Project survey found that 80 percent of wounded, ill, and injured veterans registered with WWP reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Likewise, many of Bastion’s veterans live with or have experienced PTSD, and/or other mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
So how does Bastion address these issues? Allison Tebbe, director of Bastion’s Headway Program, refers to the approach as “community as intervention.” As Tebbe explains, it refers to the powerful effect of having a close knit community like Bastion’s.
“When people feel there are others supporting them and in turn, they’re providing support, their mental health improves,” Tebbe says. “It’s those neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and things like sharing a meal.”
Headway, which is a community integration program for veterans living with TBI and other neurological conditions, is a great example of this. Participants engage in occupational therapy, art and music therapy, community outings, adaptive recreational activities, and more. Building these vocational, practical, and mental health skills is mostly done in a group setting with other veterans who understand what the other person is going through. Tebbe says that teaching mental health skills are a way for veterans to build an arsenal of tools and coping strategies.
“When they’re experiencing acute depression or anxiety, or are feeling triggered, they can pull something out of the toolkit,” Tebbe says. “If that doesn’t work, try another skill you’ve learned. It can be a long process, but we’ve seen it pay off over and over again with these veterans.”
Bastion’s social worker, Lovella Calica, also works to dispel the stigma by making group efforts more commonplace and natural. While Calica does offer traditional one-on-one counseling, she also leads a number of group sessions in mind/body skills such as TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises), writing workshops and exercise sessions.
“It’s really important for people to realize that there are many ways to feel good and it doesn’t always mean one-on-one therapy,” Calica says. “It can be yoga, TRE and many other group activities.”
When she invites a resident to participate, she makes it clear that it’s something everyone can and should do.
“I’ll say, ‘I’m working on my mental health through exercise and meditation, do you want to join me’?” Calica says.
Tebbe points out that the social isolation that many Americans now experience and is a major risk factor for suicide, is relatively new. For thousands and thousands and years, people were in greater contact, made stronger connections, and benefited from it. It really was about the power of community.
“We’re trying to recreate that model at Bastion,” Tebbe says. “It’s true community care.”