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Former astronaut Dr. Jay Buckey, key speaker: Partnerships for Veteran and Military Health Conference

Behavioral Health in Space

Former Astronaut Keynote Speaker at Veterans Conference

Written by Molly Smerika on March 6, 2024

What does space flight have in common with adjusting to life after serving in the military?

Both can be difficult and stressful. There’s an adjustment period. And, they can each affect mental health. Jay Buckey, MD, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, will provide the opening keynote address at the April 25-26 Partnerships for Veteran and Military Health Conference, hosted by the University of Colorado College of Nursing. He will discuss how work supported by NASA to help astronauts with isolation and confinement might also be useful for veterans.

Get to Know Dr. Jay Buckey

  • U.S. Air Force Reserve Veteran
  • Served as a Flight Surgeon
  • Payload Specialist for Neurolab mission on the Space Shuttle Columbia (1998)
  • Seven-person crew were experiment subjects and operators for 26 life science experiments
  • 16-day mission, logging more than 381 hours in space
  • Learn more about his research: Former Astronaut Jay Buckey Talks About Dealing with Isolation

A former astronaut, Buckey is interested in countermeasures to help people be better at conflict resolution, stress management, and improving mood. These are all important for being successful during isolation and confinement. He will highlight his 16-day space flight aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, the behavioral health work he has done, and how it translates back on Earth.

Buckey’s research for NASA focused on creating self-directed, interactive-media-based tools based on cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on helping people to think about their situation accurately and to take actions that will be productive and not make the situation worse.

“What are your thoughts about your situation and how does that drive the actions you’re taking?” he says. “Sometimes we assess a situation inaccurately, and it’s helpful to step back and think about whether things are as bad as we think.”

He says each mission – whether it’s in space or for the military – is different and has its own challenges, so it’s important to give people skills to know how to deal with situations productively.

“We’re all human, and we all have emotions. There are going to be conflicts and there’s going to be stress. It’s just going to happen, but it’s how we deal with it that’s really important,” Buckey says. “You can’t let things fester. You can’t let conflicts smolder underneath the surface and then come up at an inopportune time. The more awareness you have, including the more awareness of your reaction to situations, the more you can have the difficult conversations you need to have and work things out.”

Focusing on Mental Health

The tools also focus on depression or low mood. He says depression is very common – and often people don’t want to acknowledge they’re depressed or seek help for it.

“These tools could help veterans because they might not want to talk to other people about a depressed mood,” he says. “These tools are something they can use on their own to help them focus on their mental health.”

He says when people have depression, they tend to avoid solving problems. He says it makes their mood worse – while solving problems helps improve mood. Problem-solving treatment, which is one of the behavioral health tools Buckey has worked with, is based on helping people to identify problems they have some control over and to work on solving them.

“For example, if your boss is a jerk, that’s something you don’t have control over,” he says. “You can’t change your boss, but you can think about other things you can do in your situation. Maybe you’re not interacting with other people at work, or you’re isolating yourself from other people. Those are things you can work on and come up with a plan on how you’re going to solve it, step by step.”

“Solving problems gives you a sense of mastery over what’s going on,” he adds. “And as you develop that sense of mastery, you can start to improve your mood on your own without medication.”

This Can Happen to Any of Us

Partnerships for Veteran & Military Health Conference

When: April 25-26

Where: CU Anschutz Medical Campus

Who’s Invited: Veterans, service members, their families, and community members

Register: https://cucon.regfox.com/pvmh2024

Buckey’s keynote address will focus on mental health in space but says the information in his speech applies to anyone.

“The kinds of things that happen during long-duration missions in space, the Antarctic, or other scenarios, can happen to any of us,” he says. “People can use these tools to be better at dealing with these things if they should come up.”

The Partnerships for Veteran and Military Health Conference started in 2020. It focuses on bringing together different approaches to treatment and caring for veterans, service members, and their families. The conference includes speakers, panel discussions, and veterans’ perspectives on important issues they’re facing.

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