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NEWS | March 9, 2020

Command Counseling Program Launches: PSNS & IMF offers free, confidential employee mental health counseling

By PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

Articles and studies pepper the internet linking stress and mental health challenges with adverse impacts on physical health, family life and work.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility recognizes these issues and are meeting them head-on.

The command recently welcomed two social workers, Gretchen Gamradt and Tracey Middleton, to provide free, confidential solution-focused therapy sessions to teammates. By standing up the Command Counseling Program, employees can voluntarily address challenges they’re facing both inside and outside the fence line. Supervisors and managers can also get help navigating challenging situations related to a worker’s observed behavior.

“After learning our command had no onsite Department of the Navy Civilian Employee Assistance Program counselor, the shipyard commander immediately authorized the hiring of two civilian social workers. Fortunately, we were able to bring these counselors onboard in record time,” said Kimberly Rittenhouse, Code 1100, Executive Department division manager and deputy executive director. “We’re fortunate to have these talented, experienced counselors in place. As luck would have it, DONCEAP is once again providing a counselor onsite so we will have three skilled counselors available to our workforce, all of whom afford the same confidentiality as other mental health professionals.”

Gamradt and Middleton focus on tapping inner strengths, believing that most people know the solutions although emotions sometimes make those solutions more difficult to find. The counselors help employees move from what they refer to as the “problem zone” to the “solution zone.”

“Sometimes people get stuck so we help them get moving on their journey,” said Gamradt. The Command Counseling Program gives people a safe place to talk through challenges then “go on your own way and not carry it with you all day,” she said.

Nationally, American adults are acutely feeling stress and other pressures. In fact, a 2019 world-wide Gallup poll based on respondents’ feelings the day before found that 55 percent of Americans reported they’d felt stress “a lot of the day,” 45 percent experienced “a lot” of worry and 22 percent experienced “a lot” of anger the previous day. These numbers place Americans as some of the most stressed people on the planet.

 “Emotions are part of being human,” said Middleton. “We all want to be successful, to make a difference, to feel valued, to belong. When that doesn’t happen, we feel stress.”

Some people may be apprehensive about how seeking assistance may impact their security clearance, however, according to the SF86 security clearance guidelines, mental health treatment and counseling, in and of itself, does not have an impact.

When someone is dealing with difficulty, facing the issue as soon as possible is important.

“Mental health affects physical health,” Gamradt said.

Awareness of sound mental health and emotional hygiene is growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports increased absenteeism for employees who need time off due to stress, anxiety or related disorders. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, health expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. Unresolved stress has been tied to mood and sleep disturbances, stomach issues and headaches as well as having negative impacts on family and other relationships.

“We all have blind spots. We all struggle with issues,” said Middleton. “Sometimes, others can see those blind spots before we can.”

Middleton stated, “Managers and supervisors are already coming to us for personal growth and development to be a better leader.”

Both Gamradt and Middleton noted they can refer employees in crisis to the appropriate resources, however, their role is to provide other support, such as emotional hygiene.

“Self-care is dealing with stressful situations before other issues come up,” Gamradt said. “If addressed early, it’s like dealing with a little wave instead of a full-on storm.”

Call 360-340-2745 to schedule an appointment. If leaving a message, include name, phone number and a few available dates and times.

Supervisor approval is required if attending counseling sessions while on the clock. The CCP is using temporary locations so the meeting place will be arranged when the appointment is made.

Employees can attend up to three private, confidential sessions. If more sessions are needed, the counselors will help find appropriate resources in the community based on the employee’s needs and health insurance.

The CCP honors confidentiality, as mandated by the Privacy Act and HIPPA (exceptions apply if threatening self-harm, harm to others or command property).