Watching Your Battle Buddy’s Mental Health Six
By: Brad Pietzyk
Service in the military can take its toll, both physically and mentally. I have been physically spent and have broken down mentally. We are always looking out for each other’s physical safety, but often we neglect our mental well-being. When watching your battle buddy’s mental health six, it is important to watch for their current condition, be able to guide and help them toward assistance, and establish relationships built on mutual trust.
I like to say that, while I am not an expert in mental health, I am an expert at my own mental health. The following is written from my own perspective and based on mental places I have been or witnessed in others. Both of which I have seen at their brightest and their darkest.
Paying attention to someone’s current condition means you need to understand their emotional and mental modus operandi. What might be a warning sign from one person could be typical behavior from another. There are a lot of boiler-plate answers out there for watching for suicidal ideation, and these are great. In that tradition, I’ll give my short answer about what I look for in others and, quite frankly, what needs to be looked out for in me: change.
I am not suggesting you disregard the other advice out there written by professionals but am asking you to consider the musings of someone who has dug his own trench, lived in it and clawed his way out only to repeat the cycle.
As I said, I’m an expert on myself; I’ll be the example. I just Googled “warning signs of suicide” and clicked on the top link. The National Institute of Mental Health lists twelve items. I typically exhibit eight of them on the list, but I haven’t been suicidal for a dozen years. If someone were observing my behavior, they could become very concerned about me. But this is just how I normally operate. But when these behaviors change in me, that’s when we have a problem.
For instance, I have a long history of giving or practically giving things of importance to me away. Or selling off things of great personal value. In the last two weeks alone, I gave away my coffee roaster and sold my 501st Legion approved Star Wars costume to a stranger for a fraction of what it was worth. This might make me a bit of an imbecile, but it isn’t atypical behavior for me; it’s just me. It’s when I stop doing these things that there may be rough waters ahead.
Recently a friend of mine has made a few purposeful changes in their life. I need to be vague here in case they are reading this. The changes they made, though, are positive ones and the opposite of ones considered warning signs. But they are on my list, so I check in every couple of days, make sure they are okay, and let them know that I’m here if they ever need help. I do this because there was a significant change, even though it is a positive one.
Part of my mental health alphabet soup is bipolar disorder, so change is common and often unnoticed by me. Who is looking out for me? Primarily, now, it is my emotional support wife. We’ve been together for so long now that she knows me better than anybody else. While I often become tunnel-visioned to my own condition, she is very perceptive of the changes in me and knows when we need to step back and dig a little deep into what is going on in my head.
Watch your buddy’s mental health six. Look out for changes. Have they been offline for longer than expected? Not as chatty as normal, or the opposite? Have their topics shifted to darker or even to more cerebral realms? Have they made changes in their normal behavior at all? When you notice changes, it is a great time to check in with them. A simple, “Hey, how are you doing, buddy?” can go a long way. It has for me.
You also need to be aware of your buddy. Do you know of any mental health conditions they suffer from? What about chronic physical pain? Have they had a traumatic brain injury? Have they had a significant change in their life, like a break-up or losing a family member or another member of your unit or inner circle? You also need to pay attention to their history. Do you know if they have had a previous suicide attempt or have a family history of suicide or abuse or trauma?
Someone in a serious place could be suffering from tunnel vision like I typically do when things get worse, where they cannot see past their problems, shortcomings, and immediate circumstances and be looking for quick and possibly final solutions.
If you have noticed a change in your buddy, you can simply be there to support them. But, at times, they need trained and professional help. Suicide hotlines (such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255) or other resources. If you are reading this article, you probably already know about Stack Up's Overwatch Program, which offers round-the-clock support, which can be either accessed through this website or their discord server. The important thing is to find assistance and support them in getting there. Every case is serious and should be treated as such.
Finally, it is important that you establish relationships in your life built on mutual trust. To me, this is the very nature of a battle buddy. This battle buddy may turn out to be the one needing help, or you might be the one they are helping.