Q&A with UT ANG's new Psychological Health Director

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lillian Harnden
  • 151st ARW/PA
The Utah Air National Guard recently hired a full-time Licensed Clinical Social Worker to support the mental health needs of Guard members.

"The Guard Bureau implemented the program to help Guardsmen deal with some of the psychological trauma that returning service members are facing," said Col. Samuel Ramsay, the 151st Air Refueling Wing commander. "It's also an effort to provide a resource to deal with the increased incidents of suicide in the military."

Annika Hunt, the new director of psychological health, is an independent-level clinician. Her credentials entitle her to identify and manage mental health conditions. She does not prescribe medication, but she can refer clients to a physician for that need. With client permission, she can work as a team with their primary doctor and other providers. They can share information on patient treatment plans.

Hunt answered a few questions about her new role in the Guard.

Q: What types of services do you provide for Guardsmen?

A: I provide care for Guard members and their families. I provide assessment, care planning, referrals, and case management to ensure people are accessing community resources in an optimal way. I am a resource during times of crisis and loss. I am also here for members who want to work out little issues. The Guard wants me to be the subject matter expert on psychological issues, and act as a consultant to the wing command.

Q: What type of improvements do you hope to achieve here?

A: We're trying to get our arms around the needs of the Utah ANG as a whole. In particular,
the needs of traditional Guardsmen, who are only here one weekend a month and may be suffering in quiet. Ultimately, my goal is to provide an additional resource for Guard members and their families, to deal with emotional and social problems, and to become healthier and happier.

Q: Besides religious counseling, how does your job differ from chaplains?

A: The director of psychological health role is a partner to the Chaplain's Office in supporting Guardsmen with different tools. A key difference is my ability to follow the Airman, or family member, to see how they are doing and be their case manager. I have extensive training in mental health, substance abuse, mood and relationship issues.

Q: What kind of experience do you have with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

A: I worked with Wounded Warriors in the Army for one year. Not all of our wounds are visible. Some are psychological casualties. I can be the compassionate person between leadership and Airmen to manage psychological problems in an effective way. I can be an advocate for the Airman and help them manage PTSD when it's affecting job performance and quality of life.

Q: What is your role in base suicide prevention?

A: Suicide prevention is a very important part of my job. It's my hope that over time, members of the ANG will seek out help and support for problems way before suicide is considered. Ideally, we can intervene before things become a crisis. It's better to deal with problems while they are small.

Also, psychological readiness is everyone's responsibility. We need to be good wingmen, and reach out to others when they are struggling. Connecting with others can be a critical preventer of suicide.

Q: What would you say to Guardsmen who may have doubts about whether they should seek you out?

A: "I don't bite. I strive to treat every individual with sensitivity and privacy. I'm not here to jeopardize careers. I'm here to enhance them. I'm here to help service members remove barriers that keep them from being successful, whether at work or at home."
Hunt works fulltime Monday through Thursday and on drill weekends. She has an open door policy, and encourages Guard members to stop by. Counseling is free for Utah ANG members and their families. Her office is located in the 151st ARW Headquarters' building, room 209, next to the Chaplain's Office.

"Call, email, or come over. I don't care how you get there, just get there," said Hunt.

"As wing commander," said Colonel Ramsay. "I encourage people to use Annika's talents to help with the stresses of our operational tempo or family life."