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Here to Help: Vermont DPH Prioritizes Airmen Well-Being During Mental Health Awareness Month

Mrs. Trish Soter, Director of Psychological Health, assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing, poses with the base therapy dog, Beau.

Mrs. Trish Soter, Director of Psychological Health, assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing, poses with the base therapy dog, Beau, at the Vermont Air National Guard Base, South Burlington, VT., May 13, 2021. Soter provides support to members and their families including help with daily life stressors to full-blown crises. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by TSgt. Richard D. Mekkri)

Vermont Air National Guard --

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a national movement with the goal of raising awareness about mental health. The hope is that, through education, the local Guard community can fight the stigma of seeking mental health counseling, provide support and services, and educate the base population about services available to them.

One of the mental health advocates available to guard members and their families is Trish Soter, the director of psychological health at the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard. Soter, who earned her masters degree in social work from the University of Vermont and a dual degree in social work and sociology from Castleton State College (now Castleton University), has been passionate about helping military members since her time as an undergraduate.

“Society puts a lot of focus on our physical health and well-being,” said Soter. “Whether it's going to a gym or going to the doctor, there's no stigma if you call out sick because you have a fever or sore throat.”

Having experience in the social work field for more than 15 years, Soter believes that we should be able to discuss mental health as easily as we discuss physical health.

“But if you call out sick because you're just not in a good space and you're taking a mental health day, what does that look like?” Soter said. “I think it's important to bring awareness and to reduce the stigma around mental health.”

In addition to being a licensed social worker, Soter is also a licensed drug and alcohol abuse counselor. Although she isn’t authorized to treat members on base by providing counseling or therapy sessions, she is able to meet with them to discuss short-term, solution-focused, psycho-education options. She provides support ranging from a variety of issues from daily life stressors to full-blown crises.

Soter said that the stigma of taking care of one’s mental health within the military has also improved in recent years. In October 2017, security clearance questions on form SF-86 were revised and shifted focus from whether an individual sought treatment to whether an individual has a condition that may affect their eligibility to access classified or sensitive information.

“This change and the fact that every ANG base has a full-time, permanent director of psychological health demonstrates that leadership acknowledges that we have members that are hurting and/or struggling with mental health and the government sees the value in providing mental health services,” Soter said.

“By embedding us within the unit this allows easy access to services, helps normalize and promote help-seeking behaviors and helps to destigmatize mental health services all while providing our Airmen and their families care.”

Along with Soter, there are other options available both on and off base for 158th Fighter Wing members, spouses, and civilians. Help is always available.

Base Chaplains: 802-660-5422
MilitaryOneSource: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/ or 800-342-9647
Military Family Life Counselor (MFLC): 802-238-3401
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255