BOISE, Idaho — May is mental health awareness month and that holds a lot of weight for Lt. Col. Angelina Stephens who commands the 366th Fighter Wing Maintenance Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base.
Stephens has had a successful career alongside her husband, an F-15 pilot, but that doesn't mean it has been an easy journey.
"Every day was very difficult to see past the mental illness that I was dealing with," said Stephens. "I was still doing my job, I was still taking care of my kid and interacting with people it was all really hard."
Children didn't come easy for the Stephens family either, but after Angelina gave birth to Logan, she was overjoyed, but postpartum depression and anxiety followed.
"I was suffering suicidal ideations non-stop," said Stephens. "It wasn’t something that I acknowledged at the time, but looking back on it I was very lucky to survive."
Eventually, Stephens got help from a mental health professional to process her journey but her experience as a commander has shown the impact of early intervention and how it can make a big difference.
"I was terrified to go to mental health and I remember sitting in that chair at that first appointment and I asked more questions about what it would look like for my career."
Mental health used to be a huge stigma in the military, but that has changed over the years and Stephens wants the airmen that she commands to know that it's okay to seek help.
"I look back now and there is no reason for it because things are better," said Stephens. "It isn’t that same environment and I see people in my own unit going to get help and coming back and getting promoted, it doesn’t impact us the way it used to."
Stephens hopes that by sharing her story she can inspire others who are struggling to seek the resources the Air Force offers, it's her way of fighting the stigma of mental health.
"Sharing stories helps, but a lot of it is people just realizing those resources are there to make them stronger and that you are not weak for seeking them out," said Stephens.
Military members and veterans can call the military crisis line any time of day, that number is 1-800-273-8255.