Lewis-McChord Joint Base, Washington. – Lewis McChord Joint Base revolutionizes the Army’s approach to mental and physical health.
Sgt. Alex Nichalson, an infantryman with JBLM, changed his life through the Army’s holistic health and fitness program. Using a combination of therapy and weightlifting, Nichalson boosted his physical and mental health when he hit a breaking point in 2019.
“It was a key moment for me, as if I wanted to live for something, and that’s why I dedicated myself to powerlifting. It consumed me, ”said Nichalson.
In the fall of 2019, Nichalson knew he needed help if he could no longer hide his anxiety or depression. He had turned to alcohol and smoking to ease the pain and found that things only seemed to get worse.
“From losing friends, suicide, belittling, things that happened in my childhood, to losing a child during my first outing, it all kept adding up,” said Nichalson.
In 2019, Nichalson met Capt. Amanda Hetzler, an occupational therapist at JBLM. He thinks she saved his life.
“She made me feel like a person and she kept reassuring me that everything would be fine and it was the first time in my life that I had,” said Nichalson.
It was a turning point in Nichalson’s life. He now had the tools and support to focus on his sanity – something he didn’t want to deal with for most of his life.
“Alex talked about putting on that tough face and just putting on a show that tries to be strong,” said Hetzler. “If you do this for so long, you stop living, you stop growing, you suffer in silence.”
The Army launched its holistic health and fitness pilot program in 10 locations, including JBLM, in 2018. The program changed the culture of how the army deals with mental health problems.
“(It’s about) taking care of yourself mentally, spiritually, socially, emotionally, just doing the things that care about all of these areas instead of just putting on a happy face to look like you’re okay. Address what’s going on from the inside out, ”said Hetzler.
The need for this approach was to ensure readiness. Every year, nearly 20% leave the military due to preventable mental or physical injury, equivalent to a loss of $ 1 billion a year. The program is a cultural shift in the way they train and treat soldiers and how soldiers see themselves.
“When I grew up in the army, especially eight years ago when I came in, behavioral health was frowned upon. Nobody really took it seriously. We knew we had this pandemic suicide, but anyone inside you would be considered weak if you sought help, ”said Nichalson.
After Nichalson overcomes his own reluctance to seek help, his goal is to normalize mental health treatment and help others understand that it is as important as their physical well-being.
“I love helping people so I just ask them, ‘Hey man, how are you feeling today? And just talk to people who are using skills I’ve learned and teach them that, ”said Nichalson.
In response to the success of the pilot program, military facilities across the country are preparing to add this as well.
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