A Brief Overview on STEC’s Approach to Mental Health


Um, I’m going to preface this by a simple statement. What works for STEC may not work for every organization given STEC’s considerably smaller size relative, to, um, other organizations…

But, it’s my turn to comment on something, and I thought this is a good one to talk about. When everything is going well, well, um, things are well.

What happens if things aren’t?

So, I thought I’d talk about how STEC deals with mental health within our organization.

(Deep breath, Okie, you can do this! You’ve done this before.)

Okay. I’ll preface by saying that the statistics we provide to the DoD is a little um, skewed.

Skewed in such a way that what we report more or less mirrors the general state of dysfunction within the conventional military. This is an actual conspiracy that we are more than happy to maintain because to report truthfully would result in significant degrees of scrutiny from well-meaning and curious professionals. I hope you understand what I mean, but in case this isn’t clear, um, we have a spotless track record when it comes to mental health. Issues are actively resolved as they appear and we vigorously follow-up with all resources at our disposal. 

I maintain that what works for us wouldn’t be applicable across even the conventional navy, much less the United States or the world, but it’s something that we’re thinking about working on once our primary objective is complete. Those of my friends that are more academically oriented are already actively documenting our efforts in the hopes that it’ll be some use to clinicians and professionals down the road.

From a top-down perspective, STEC is heavily invested in the well-being of our personnel. This investments starts from the top, where leadership involved in this area are held accountable on multiple levels. With this great responsibility, however, comes with it the full support of STEC’s extraordinary array of resources. Medical staff and professionals are kept informed via dedicated staff on the latest developments and recommendations pertaining to mental care. Budgetary and financial concerns are nonexistent. Specialized training, utilization of appropriate supervision, and translation of contemporary research to clinical military practice are routine, but in our organization this effort is both organic and self-deterministic, based primarily on the expertise of those involved in the task.

While we have methods to facilitate selection of people with suitable character to join our organization as a part of our overall strategy, over the years we’ve accumulated significant expertise in the maintenance of mental well-being. Abyssals aside, working at STEC possess some unique challenges not found elsewhere. Parallels can be seen with conventional military deployment, but overall the experience is vastly different. 

For sake of discussion, we will use the profile of a typical STEC recruit. Mr. Roux Key hails from a generic small town from the American Midwest and is freshly poached from the Naval Academy. He is placed on his first “taskforce” (you will sometimes see this being called “project” or “mission” or any number of names depending on who is talking. This is in effect the basic “work” unit within STEC proper, where progress is measured in the context of projects and objectives completed), transferring from one of STEC’s shore facilities in Oahu to Avalon proper. His mission, while classified (and irrelevant for this discussion), will last for eight months, where he may elect for R&R or be assigned to the next task. 

What I discuss today will not cover everything we do, but I do want to give you a glimpse into how we address these challenges. 

We may therefore divide Mr. Key’s experience into three phases: Pre-Deployment, Deployment, and Post-Deployment. Let us consider STEC’s strategy to ensure Mr. Key’s success during each step along the way.

During Pre-Deployment, one of the key observations we make is that this is typically more stressful for Mr. Key than the other two phases. The simplest explanation is that Mr. Key is faced with both a basic human condition of being fearful of the unknown, as well as concrete tasks in which he must accomplish prior to his deployment. His normal duties of ensuring his own survival aside, there are a multitude of things he needs to take care of. Even as a young, pet-less bachelor, Mr. Key will need to consider tasks such as communication with family, updating immunizations, completing powers-of-attorney and wills, ensuring screenings and paperwork are in order, completion of training materials, pre-mission preparations, and more. 

At a rudimentary level, STEC does two things for Mr. Key to facilitate this process. We offer our support in what ways necessary and make that offer explicit, and we also offer the option to reduce the workload on Mr. Key by arranging for certain tasks to be completed on his behalf. This goes against a portion of the established “culture” of our conventional military, where toughness, independence, and resilience are highly valued and concerns have been voiced in regards the potential for abuse or the creation of “soft” personnel.

STEC acknowledges these concerns and welcome them in current and future strategizing sessions, but point out that having literal mindreaders really help with the former, and we would prefer our personnel to focus on what is important – i.e. fighting off and figuring out how to fight off the Abyssal invasion – instead of worrying about whether they have auto-deposit set-up properly or having obtained the correct certification from a half-dozen similar sounding bureaus. 

During deployment itself, the challenges Mr. Key faces are now twofold. He will need to handle the responsibilities of his day to day tasks at STEC, and on the other, deal with external sources of emotional destabilization and disorganization. As deployment is oftentimes directly within STEC controlled space, it is natural that we place great emphasis on it. Here I will say that we prefer a pro-active rather than a reactive approach, and our personnel tend to naturally seek out the method that works for them (Note that Pennsy, for all her edges and barbs, remains one of the most popular persons to handle said issues).

In short, we aim to intentionally create opportunities such that our personnel find their tasks to be meaningful and worthwhile. Persons assigned to a particular taskforce are assumed a high degree of competence and significant mechanisms exist to incorporate their contributions and feedback. Each taskforce’s mission is well articulated (a particular burden and challenge to STEC leadership), with a strong emphasis on how each individual’s day to day task contributes to that overall goal and vision. Feedback and response from direct authorities are functionally instant. Special care is taken to maintain well-being and to minimize and prevent “burn-out”. 

In order to fulfill the above goals, Mr. Key’s assignment – let’s say for sake of discussion – identifying the efficiency of CV girl aircraft under various weather conditions – will have factors built in. His hours are long, but generally flexible, and his day to day is more a case where productivity is measured by what is done rather than the time spent on the clock. He is in regular contact with both his immediate superior on the taskforce as well as STEC’s higher echelons up and including Admiral Yin himself. Mr. Key can arrange for times to communicate with family at his leisure based on his personal schedule, which severely cuts down on stress induced by familial separation. 

STEC has a department specifically meant to observe operational tempo across the organization and make recommendations to adjust as necessary. This includes providing oversight on the expertise required for each project, and Mr. Key is instructed to be as frank as he can in regards to what sort of training or assistance or equipment he needs. This department also tends to deal with the “humanitarian,” non-doctrinal aspects of STEC policy. If, for instance, Mr. Key finds out that Ma Key has developed cancer and needs treatment, this is where we send people out to ensure that they get the best care possible. In my observation, this department tends to be a lot more active here with our personnel that are married and have kids, and the things we help with ranging from relocation assistance, acclimation, and ordinary household tasks.

Let’s just say that STEC understands the sacrifices made here. Considering the personalities involved in the sort of people STEC recruits and their value systems, and then consider the fact that they are willingly choosing to leave their spouses for extended duration of time and to have their children be functionally raised by a single parent household. Add the fact that secrecy is necessary and that many families are not in the know in terms of STEC’s true purpose, and let’s just say us calling a lawn mowing company to help with the yard, sending a fairy team to carry out car repairs (don’t laugh – the fairies see this as vacation, actually), or spending some time to help spouses figure out the intricacies of online banking and mortgages is well worth it in our eyes.

Of course, we keep a close eye on Mr. Key’s mental well-being as well. Recall that the Abyssal’s primary weapon is one that is inherently psychological. It induces feelings of horror, helplessness, and other negativity just by proximity. I can write an entire paper on how STEC deals with this on a mental level, but for our discussion today, I’ll just go to the highest levels and say that our focus to psychology is inherently humanistic. We are human, and have awareness of our humanity, and therefore we have an obligation and responsibility to make choices and take responsibility of our choices. You’ll find that in reality, things like keeping STEC’s true purpose a secret is less of a challenge when our personnel understands and agrees with the reasons and rationales put into place. 

It doesn’t mean we know it all or know definitively how things should be. For instance, we’ve been observing with growing interest the concept of “psychological presence, physical absence,” as service members in the conventional military, despite now having access to satellite phones and other ways to communicate on deployment, often end up feeling worse after speaking to their families because they could not be physically there to contribute to family life. You can naturally see that STEC is less likely to have this issue, but this, like a host of other topics, we keep a close eye on.  

Naturally, our support for Mr. Key does not stop at deployment. During the post-deployment phase, STEC mandates a “debriefing” or “acclimation” period prior to the actual R&R time granted to each personnel. This is useful to both Mr. Key and STEC at large. Mr. Key’s feedback on what went well and what didn’t will help us in enacting further policy and help Mr. Key as we identify concrete needs that we can address. A couple of days where Mr. Key gets his sleep schedule back in “normal” hours, for instance, goes a long way to help Mr. Key adjust during his home life. 

On a theoretical level, we would also use this to gauge “re-enlistment” interest. Anecdotally, the vast majority of our personnel are very satisfied with our approach. As an anonymous high-ranking STEC officer once quipped, “Working alongside shipgirls and the best America has to offer with literal pixie dust and magic straight outta the pages of a novel, maybe people don’t uh, need much convincin’ to come back. Hell, my boys are itching to get back so we can start training with the big guns.”

By now hopefully you have seen a bit of what STEC does and how we work. The challenges we face are many and varied, and we are working hard to anticipate those challenges as they arise. A smattering of issues we are actively resolving include, but are not limited to:

  • How can we coordinate more effectively within STEC to provide better care?
  • A significant deficiency is that STEC has little capacity to test our support system under “stress” – i.e. an actual Abyssal incursion or mass-casualty scenarios. What can we do to address this?
  • To what extent should we influence and interact with conventional military policy and best-known practices for care?

As always, everything we do is a work in progress. This is also why STEC has a taskforce specifically dedicated to this, um, task (heh). We do this because we recognize that the fight against the Abyssals may be a long and drawn out affair, and the best thing we can do now is to ensure our most important asset – our personnel – is in the best condition possible.