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'Life skills' renamed 'mental health'

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- All Air Force "life skills support centers" will be renamed "mental health clinics" effective immediately.

After a poll of subject matter experts, first sergeants, command chief master sergeants and mental health patients, it was determined that the name "life skills" was confusing and did not appropriately reflect the mission of providing mental health services.

"To most people, and particularly to professionals, 'life skills' refers to youth programs and services for the developmentally disabled," said Lt. Col. Steven Pflanz, the senior psychiatry policy analyst for the Air Force surgeon general. "Traditionally, 'life skills' refers to teaching people how to get dressed, prepare meals or balance a checkbook - not psychotherapy.

"So, Airmen seeking counseling wouldn't necessarily think to go to the life skills support center," he said. "Likewise, when an off-base mental health professional wanted to speak with their on-base counterpart, they were confused when they were referred to the life skills support center."

The name "mental health" was used prior to 2001, but was changed to "life skills" to combat the stigma associated with seeking and receiving mental health care, Colonel Pflanz said.

"But changing the name alone doesn't eliminate the stigma," he said. "Stigma is best addressed through ongoing education efforts. Changing deeply held societal beliefs about mental heath care takes time."

Contrary to popular belief, only a small percentage of Airmen who seek mental health care actually experience adverse career outcomes or even unit notification of treatment, Colonel Pflanz said.

"The Air Force medical service must constantly work to overcome barriers associated with seeking treatment for behavioral and emotional problems," said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Charles Bruce Green, the Air Force deputy surgeon general.

"To address the concerns of Airmen about seeking treatment for mental health issues, it should be clear that privacy is the norm when their issue does not represent a danger to themselves, the mission or others," the general said.

The name change will be accomplished at Air Force installations within a few months, Colonel Pflanz said. Although the change is immediate, practical details such as posting signs and updating regulations will take some time.