Former United States Army soldier Miguel Sierra is making a difference in the lives of veterans and students as they transition into the private sector. Through his passion for mental health, well-being, and suicide prevention, Sierra is helping individuals navigate through difficult times.
Sierra's journey began when he joined the Army as a 68 X-Ray behavioral health specialist at the age of 29. Feeling stuck in a job he saw no future in, his experience working with children and his brother's service in the Army inspired Sierra to make a change. Sierra has since found a sense of purpose, direction, and fulfillment in his work.
Today, Sierra works as a Suicide Prevention Program Manager at Fort Meade, MD, where he has trained over 5,000 people across the National Capital Region on how to manage stressors, and how to look out for one another by recognizing signs and symptoms in their peers and, more importantly, themselves. But Sierra's passion for mental health extends beyond his professional work, and advocates for hiking as a means to improve mental health and well-being.
Hiking has been a positive mental and physical challenge for Sierra, a way for him to get away from his problems and be one with nature. Sierra recognizes that for some people, that quiet and peacefulness can be soothing, while for others, it can be scary. But still, Sierra encourages others to try hiking — or any physical activity — because of the physical and mental benefits he has experienced from his hiking.
“Physical fitness is probably the best antidepressant out there,” Sierra said. “It’s one of those things that might sound superficial, but it’s true. When you look better, you feel better.”
Beyond hiking, Sierra also found joy in basketball, not just as a sport, but also as a means of forming lifelong friendships because he believes interpersonal connections and hobbies are significant contributors to a healthy mental state. Sierra encourages others to find what they love and pursue it as a means of fostering connections.
Sierra is proof that one person can make a difference in the lives of others and his message of mental health advocacy is clear: seeking therapy and breaking down the stigma surrounding it is necessary for personal and communal well-being. Sierra stresses the importance of understanding the stigma surrounding mental health and seeking help regardless of societal pressure, noting that embracing our humanity in discussing mental health is crucial. All in all, Sierra’s advocacy for mental health is a pressing reminder of the importance of breaking down societal stigmas and advocating for ourselves.
“We are carrying all these things around because we think nobody wants to hear us and because we think nobody’s there for us, and that’s not true,” Sierra said. “When one person has the courage to admit that they’re working through something, what you find is a beautiful freaking domino effect of people letting them know they’re not alone in the journey.”
Photo credit(s): Courtesy of Miguel Sierra Speaks