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Mental Health Counseling not Career Ending
Air Force News  |  By Staff Sgt. Patrick Brown  |  September 28, 2005
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - Retired Senior Master Sgt. Patrick McCathern was literally seconds away from death. He hung by a noose tied to his bathroom door, ready to die.

As he felt his last few gasping breaths fill his lungs, he noticed the wagging tail and puppy-dog eyes of his pet, Dunkin, looking up at him. That was enough to make him untie the rope from around his neck.

The incident led Mr. McCathern to seek help, which allowed him to dig himself out of a nearly yearlong depression. He credits the professional help he received at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for helping him pull himself out of what he calls an “unimaginable hell.”

“I would have rather been shot and endure that pain than endure the mental pain,” he said. “But after that stay at the hospital, I did nothing but get stronger.”

Since September 2001, Mr. McCathern has been a spokesperson for the National Institute of Mental Health’s “Real Men. Real Depression.” campaign. He has also spoken at Department of Defense-level conferences, and his public service announcements have been on television and radio.

Today Mr. McCathern works for the Army as a new equipment training instructor at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. He shared his insights and experiences with two full houses at the base theater here Sept. 23.

He discussed depression and suicide -- two topics in which he is a subject-matter expert. His aim was to encourage those who have feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide to seek help.

Mr. McCathern said people must realize the long-standing stigma that mental health counseling is detrimental to military advancement is not true. He said seeking counseling doesn’t mean the end of a career.

“One of the big myths is, as soon as you seek any kind of counseling, your career starts going downhill. Your (security) clearance is taken away and you never get it back. That’s wrong,” he said.

After seeking counseling, the Air Force did suspend his security clearance, but only for two weeks. He said it didn’t take him long to get back his top secret clearance.

Maj. (Dr.) Kimberly Finney, commander of the Life Skills Support Center here, says she has never seen a case where a clearance has been denied because of mental counseling.

“In terms of a security clearance, good judgment and reliability are the underlying tenets of the DOD security guidelines,” she said. “So anytime you have a problem and you’re doing something to prevent further problems, it shows good judgment.”

Unless there is a credible threat to security or people, any counseling held at, or through the Life Skills Support Center, remains confidential, Dr. Finney said.

“Our mission is rehabilitation and return to duty,” she said. “If the Air Force didn’t allow people the opportunity to get better, then we’d be unemployed. If we can’t be helpful, then we can’t be useful.”

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