Free. Anonymous. Available 24/7. Any Internet user recognizes those as buzzwords to shop, chat and surf the Web. But one website aims to shift the meaning of “free, anonymous and available 24/7.”
AfterDeployment.org, the online wellness resource for military members, is marking its fifth anniversary this month. The website was launched in August 2008 after a congressional mandate for the creation of pilot projects that would offer interactive mental health material for service members and their families.
AfterDeployment.org now offers an array of free and anonymous assessment tools, videos and resources for the Defense Department community, veterans and their families that are available around the clock. Dr. David Bradshaw, a research psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology – the parent organization of AfterDeployment.org – says the website was created to extend the capability of the Military Health System to provide early detection and treatment of mental health issues by providing self-care resources.
The initial intent of creating the site was to serve the more than two million active duty, National Guard and reserve service members, Bradshaw added. But since then, about 2.2 million troops have deployed. The site now serves as a place they can visit online to find the tools they need to manage life’s stressors.
“Just to give you an idea of what the need is, a Rand Corporation study in 2009 found that about 20 percent of returning service members showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress,” Bradshaw said. “Of those, less than half were actually receiving any treatment.”
AfterDeployment.org initially served as a resource only on matters of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. The site has since expanded its focus to address anxiety, depression, relationships, resilience, stress, health and wellness -- “the full range of issues that returning service members and veterans would be dealing with,” Bradshaw said.
AfterDeployment.org provides 24/7, direct access to self care. Some 9,000 users per month are taking advantage of the free resources.
The website allows users to be anonymous, which Bradshaw said is important for service members who may be reluctant to seek out psychological help for fear that it will impact their duties. “Some fear they may jeopardize promotion, lose their security clearance or face other kinds of stigmatizing barriers associated with confronting a mental challenge,” he said.
While AfterDeployment.org provides access to tools and resources, it does not diagnose illnesses, Bradshaw said. Service members should see their health care providers to diagnose any mental health conditions.
AfterDeployment.org, however, does offer assessments, which Bradshaw says “allows users to identify where they stand in relation to various issues.”
AfterDeployment.org makes recommendations that may include seeking some further assistance, then provides the service members with resources to find providers in their area who can help.
After five successful years of providing wellness tools to service members, AfterDeployment.org has a laundry list of efforts it’s rolling out in the future. The site is now focused on educating health care providers by collaborating with Seattle University’s nursing department to create a product that will educate nurses who work with service members and veterans. The effort will help nurses better understand military culture and how to address PTSD, TBI, and other post-deployment challenges, Bradshaw said.
Another forward-looking effort the site is working on is becoming more mobile for service members who are on the go and don’t have time to use a desktop computer to access the website. According to Bradshaw, “Mobile device use among the military is rising rapidly, so we are working hard to move AfterDeployment.org to the mobile web to stay ahead of the curve.”
AfterDeployment.org also is adding more tools to address sexual trauma, suicide prevention, chronic pain, and TBI, Bradshaw said. He added, “I started working here in April and one thing I’m impressed by is you’re never standing still. We work to keep the information updated, fresh and current.”
Visit AfterDeployment.org for wellness resources and assessment tools for topics ranging from financial health and spirituality to depression and anger.
Service members and families in need of crisis intervention, especially for suicide prevention, should contact the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then press “1.”
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