Anthony Moreland – As society continues to explore healthier living habits such as foregoing medications and moving towards holistic stress management, the Army Study Program Management Office has begun their own research to implement programs like mindfulness, and tai chi for the benefit of soldier’s mental, physical health and overall military readiness.
It is widely accepted that the life of a soldier is extremely stressful and laden with numerous responsibilities, and critical missions, with little to no room for delay. In addition to every day stressors, these brave men and women are tasked with the insurmountable assignment of winning a war(s) – while trying to make it home to their families. When these heroes finally do make it home, if not physically injured, the mental trauma of war is evident and can reverberate for months, years and sometimes indefinitely.
Yet, many of these soldiers do not seek the help of a licensed professional upon return. The military has addressed many reasons why they feel many are despondent when it comes to seeking help within the confines of the military: 1) confidentiality concerns and fear of being labeled, 2) potential for negative impact on career, 3) concerns over self/peer perception, 4) inaccessibility to quality behavioral health care, and lastly 5) asking for help is a sign of weakness. This is where the mindfulness practice can play such an integral part.
Mindfulness mediation draws on the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Mindfulness as a mental state is characterized by “full attention to the present moment without elaboration, judgment or emotional reactivity.”One particular element which mindfulness meditation focuses on is breathing. Mindfulness has been shown to “increase levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, a hormone that repairs cellular damage caused by stress. At the same time, it decreases levels of cortisol and neuropeptide Y, stress-related chemicals that, over time, can damage tissues.” Mindfulness can also have positive effects on focus, boosts to working memory, stress reduction, less emotional reactivity and increased cognitive flexibility. According to the Army Research Lab, they are already seeing positive results with their trial groups. They indicated, “The team has seen the mindfulness methods used to lower blood pressure, reduce anger and increase calmness.”
While mindfulness is showing the potential to be an extremely helpful tool for the military, the problem of stigmatization still remains. The United States Army Special Operations Command (SOC) has offered ways in which to effectively integrate mindfulness mediation. They are of the volition that first, re-branding mental health by focusing on optimized mental performance and enhancing the strength of soldiers rather than the medical illness model will decrease stigmatization. Additionally, they have listed chaplain partnerships for those service members who are religiously affiliated and may feel more comfortable seeking advice and guidance from those of their particular faith. Lastly, the SOC believes that requiring mandatory assessments and briefings could be particularly beneficial as it would act as a “cover” for those who would not otherwise seek help on their own.
In 2013, the Army Study Program Management Office funded nearly 30 studies at about $335,000 each for 15 agencies to inform Army leaders on issues of importance to the Army such as combating PTSD. It has already been noted that mindfulness meditation will prove less economically straining for the military as anyone can educate soldiers on the art of meditation; all that is required is certification.
(Editor’s Note) – If you are interested in the practice of mindfulness, please take a look at http://www.mindfulnessinlawclass.com/course/index.html as an entry point. The practice of mindfulness can be very beneficial to many groups of individuals including both veterans and lawyers. The University of Miami School of Law has provided its students an excellent program in Mindfulness & the Law which is run by Professor Scott Rogers. For more information on the program or Professor Rogers please visit http://www.mindfulnessinlawclass.com/teachers/index.html.
These questions regarding the well being of veteran’s mental health and many others shall be commented upon by experts in the field in the University of Miami School of Law, National Security and Armed Conflict Law Review’s Symposium on November 14, 2014. CLE credit can also be earned through an ethics presentation after the two panels.