MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Imagine you’re driving down a road with loved ones and suddenly a deer leaps in front of your car. Maybe you’re able to avoid the crash, maybe not – either way, that moment will affect you for the rest of your drive and maybe the rest of your life. Now multiply that by 100 and you might have an idea of what it’s like to encounter an improvised explosive device.
Psychiatrists at the Deployment Wellness Clinic aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., such as Robert Wilson, who described the above situation, help Marines and sailors who deal with issues like post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and family problems. Their goal is to help the service members recover and get back to full duty status through therapy and medication.
They follow a chart that categorizes Marines and sailors into four colored-stress levels: green, yellow, orange and red. The green zone represents a service member in an optimal state of mind while the red zone signifies disabling distress. Wilson stated that they usually receive service members in the red and work to get them to green.
While each Marine and sailor is different, so is the program, explains Sarah S. Spar-Alexander, a clinical psychologist for the clinic.
“Some thrive in group therapy, and for others, individual therapy is better,” said Spar-Alexander. Service members with serious issues sometimes feel separate from others in their workplace, explained Spar-Alexander. A group-setting involving Marines and sailors with similar problems gives them a chance to relate with one another and feel a sense of camaraderie.
Whether working with a patient for two weeks or a few years, Wilson and Spar-Alexander love helping Marines and sailors.
“I’ve worked with lots of different people, and no other (group of people) has been as appreciative of the services we provide,” said Spar-Alexander. “I’m not one to go pick up a gun and go fight, but I feel like I’m doing a service to honor those who are doing that.”
Nodding his head in agreement, Wilson looked through his window and pointed to the road outside where Marines routinely exercise.
“Marines work hard – we see it every day,” said Wilson. “It brings the best out of us as providers to help people who give so much of themselves.”
Both Wilson and Spar-Alexander stress that service members can stop fellow Marines and sailors or themselves from getting to the red zone by recognizing problems and working on them early. “Talk to friends and family, address the issues – that’s huge,” said Spar-Alexander. “Facing the issues over and over takes less energy than getting things dammed up or drinking it away.”
PTSD remains a serious issue in the Marine Corps. Fortunately, help is available on Camp Lejeune for service members through therapy at the clinic.
“There is so much stigma, but we’re seeing more staff noncommissioned officers and officers than we’re used to,” said Spar-Alexander. “The word is finally getting out there that PTSD is a brain injury and what we do here, in essence, is help the brain heal.”