Missouri National Guard names its first director of psychological health
By: Silas Allen/Missouri National Guard Public Affairs
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Nov. 20, 2009) — Michelle Hartmann, of Jefferson City, has been named the Missouri National Guard's first-ever director of psychological health.
Hartmann oversees the Missouri Guard's psychological health program. The program, which is funded through the National Guard Bureau, is designed to promote readiness through psychological fitness. Hartmann said the program's guidelines are intentionally vague, which allows each state's director to tailor it to the specific needs of each state.
"It gives us a lot of freedom to have this program work for the state and what Missouri needs," she said.
Hartmann works closely with a handful of other departments in the Missouri National Guard, including the Yellow Ribbon program, military life consultants and the state chaplain's office. She also works with resources in the community such as local hospitals, counselors and psychologists.
"We've really got a good team here that's doing a lot of good things," she said.
Before coming to work for the Missouri National Guard, Hartmann worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She served as a social worker at V.A. clinics in Columbia as well as in San Antonio. While in these positions, she led outpatient post-traumatic stress disorder support groups and in-patient anger management programs. She also worked with neurological teams.
Hartmann says he also has a unique understanding of military families: her husband is a medic in the Texas National Guard. This gives her special insight into aspects of her job that she might not otherwise have, she said.
"It was a really unique fit for me," she said.
One service that Hartmann provides is consultation with unit commanders. If a unit has concerns about one of its soldiers, that unit can contact Hartmann for advice. Individual soldiers may also contact her office if they have concerns. All information is kept confidential except in rare cases where the law requires that it be disclosed, Hartmann said.
"None of this information gets documented in their military records," she said.
One of the biggest challenges so far, Hartmann said, has been evaluating what the Missouri National Guard needs from the program. Because the program is so new, Hartmann said, very few people know the psychological health office exists at all, so it is often difficult to get a good idea of what Guard members need.
Hartmann said one of her goals is to make mental health a more normal part of conversation. To some extent, Hartmann said, the stigma associated with psychological issues is unique to the military. This stigma can prevent soldiers or airmen from seeking help when they need it, she said. This is counterproductive, she said, because early intervention can often keep psychological issues from escalating.
"It's very different in a military setting than it is in the community because of that stigma," she said. "Mental health is such an issue, but we don't talk about it."