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NEWS | May 22, 2023

Mental Health Awareness Month: Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve Zeroes in on Force Mental Health

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Chelsea Milburn

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and within the intersection of the armed forces and aviation, and balancing military and civilian life for Selected Reservists (SELRES), calling it “high stress” can be an understatement.

In 2022, psychiatrist and SELRES Navy flight surgeon Cmdr. Ravi DeSilva joined the Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve (CNAFR) staff to serve as the force mental health officer. DeSilva engages the force with training, discussion and support to foster a deeper understanding of Sailors’ mental health and informed best practices among CNAFR wing and squadron leadership.

“Over the last three years essentially, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in the total number of mental health referrals and cases, regardless of where the command is,” said DeSilva. “For many individuals, providers put in mental health referrals and think it’s enough, but then there’s a two or three month lag time. For those individuals, those problems only tend to get worse.”

Since he’s been on board with CNAFR, DeSilva has visited commands under the CNAFR umbrella to speak with leadership about the importance of their role in establishing an environment supportive of mental health.

“If you’re not encouraging conversations to happen at the local level and to think about how the environment impacts all of our personnel, then we’ve already missed a huge proportion of what will ultimately impact our Sailors’ mental health,” said DeSilva, addressing leadership of Fleet Logistics Support Wing (FLSW) during the FLSW Leadership Conference earlier this year.
In addition to the importance of a positive environment between getting a mental health referral and being seen by a provider, DeSilva explained that the environment set by the command plays a major role in the success of treatment, as well as helping Sailors before they get to a point where they need to see a provider.
“It’s critically important to think about,” said DeSilva. “If you see a provider one hour per week, but you’re in a toxic or unhealthy work environment for 40, 50, 60 hours per week, is there a pill that’s going to fix that problem? Is that the type of thing one conversation per week is likely going to set right?”
The conference audience resounded in agreement that the solution has to be much more.
DeSilva encouraged holding events like command physical training and others that release natural endorphins and encourage socialization, ensuring Sailors’ basic needs are met, establishing an environment where Sailors are invited to talk about issues they face and inviting resources to come to the command.
“Chaplains, Fleet & Family, and even military treatment facilities (MTFs) - you can reach out to all of these resources and ask them to come to the squadron and teach classes proactively rather than sending individuals when they’re in crisis,” said DeSilva. “Lots of people need skills around communication at home, managing stress, how to eat better, how to think about diet, etc. All of these skills are extremely beneficial to Sailors’ mental health.”
While DeSilva’s audience was engaged, asking questions and actively thinking through each topic, DeSilva emphasized that he’s not reinventing the wheel with his trainings.
“Part of the main job of mental health is bringing into conscious awareness these things we already know,” said DeSilva. “At the end of the day, when I say we all have to be part of that space in that engagement, that’s what I mean. These are places we can make a difference when we think of how to use the tools we already have in the most effective ways to set an environment where people are more motivated, more engaged and feeling a sense of purpose.”
For information on mental health resources, visit the MyNavyHR Mental Health Playbook.
CNAFR mans, trains and equips the Naval Air Force Reserve in order to provide enduring operational support and strategic depth to Navy forces that win in combat.