NEWS | March 23, 2022

Bradford’s Story: A Sailor’s Experience with Sacrifice, Struggle, and Seeking Help to Overcome

By Mass Communication Specialist First Class (SW/AW/IW) Lawrence Davis, Navy Reserve Region Readiness and Mobilization Command Fort Worth Public Affairs

FORT WORTH, Texas (March. 7, 2022) – From day one of boot camp, United States Navy Sailors are trained to live by a set of principles. Their development is built upon the Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment. They are guided throughout their careers by ideologies expressed in the Navy Ethos and the Secretary of the Navy’s Signature Behaviors of the 21st Century Sailor. 
 
These documents and the guidance contained are the roadmaps to success in the Navy. Within these texts, a common theme exists: Take care of your shipmates. Take care of yourself. Execute the mission. To achieve these objectives, Sailors must not only work toward maintaining optimal physical conditioning, their spiritual and mental health are essential as well. 
 
Logistics Specialist 1st Class Mary Bradford, assigned to the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment in Gulfport, Mississippi, recently shared her experiences dealing with depression and anxiety as a way to promote, raise awareness, and erase stigmas surrounding mental health.
 
Bradford revealed, in a series of interviews, some of her personal struggles and discussed what actions she takes to ensure her well-being.
 
This is her story.  
 
“My struggle with mental health began around 2013 during the last years of Perform to Serve (PTS),” said Bradford. “I never imagined I’d be told I could no longer be an operations specialist (OS).”

Bradford explained that because some Navy ratings had year groups that were overmanned and some undermanned, the PTS program presented affected Sailors who wanted to continue their service the opportunity to convert to another rate. The OS rating for Bradford’s year group was one of several affected by this process.   

“I loved my job and I was good at it,” she said. “Back then, I questioned why a high performer, like myself, had to switch rates?  I was given the choice of taking a job in either engineering or supply. As much as I believed I could do great as a logistics specialist, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my dream had been shattered.”

Bradford continued.

“I was also going through a divorce,” she shared. “I had dreamt, as a child, how it would be when I grew up and had my own family. So, I felt like I had failed when I couldn’t save my marriage.”

Bradford shares a daughter with her former spouse. During their divorce, she was faced with making tough decisions regarding custody of their child and her career. 

“It was a major blow for me to allow my ex-husband to be her primary caretaker as I continued my career,” said Bradford. “It’s a choice that affects me to this day. I absolutely love my mini me. But, I felt it was important, as a mother and as a woman, to set a positive example for her by continuing to serve.” 

Bradford recognized how overwhelming stress, as a result of her circumstances, was taking its toll on her mental state, manifesting in the form of depression and anxiety. She noticed it was affecting multiple aspects of her personal and professional life.

“I felt defeated,” she said. “Everything I had worked for to establish myself had been lost. I consider myself to be really good at solving problems, but, I could not find an answer to my own. I had hit a wall.”

She knew something had to be done.    

“I took the first step to get myself help,” Bradford explained. “I started by using an online talk therapy service because I was worried if anyone found out I’d be treated differently at work. It was helpful, but, I felt I needed someone who could more closely relate to my struggles as a young woman in the Navy.” 

She decided to go to base medical. After an evaluation, Bradford received a referral to be seen by a behavioral health therapist who regularly provides treatment for military service members. 

“They were very understanding and personable,” said Bradford. “I’ve learned that experiencing emotions is completely normal. It’s a natural part of life, and reaching out for help is actually a sign of courage and inner strength. It is not a sign of weakness.”

Bradford encourages service members who may be experiencing stressful situations to seek help, and for all Sailors to look after one another.  

“Don’t be ashamed to let your shipmates know when you’re having a hard time,” said Bradford. “Your performance decreases when you’re unable to focus on the mission. In some cases, that can result in someone’s injury or even death. Also, if you notice your shipmate seems overly stressed, say something so your leadership is able to get that Sailor the help they need and deserve.”

She praised her leadership for the care and support they’ve shown her along the way. 

“I’m thankful to be surrounded by leaders who have supported me as I continue to work at improving and maintaining my mental health,” said Bradford. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for everyone to promote the mental health resources the Navy provides. Make sure pamphlets and flyers are placed in general locations so Sailors have easy access to them. Share stories of your experiences to help normalize going through human struggles and discuss what your healthy coping strategies are.”

If you are experiencing symptoms related to mental health, seek help by contacting your medical provider, command Psychological Health Outreach Program coordinator, or speak to a confidential counselor at Military OneSource (1-800-342-9647).