As service members, military families and veterans cope through the COVID-19 pandemic, many are turning to skills and instincts they’ve developed through their service. But despite the abundance of mental health resources available to the military community, many do not reach out for help when it’s most needed.

CMSI spoke with Paul Dillon, an Army veteran and an Accenture Visiting Professor of the Practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, where he teaches a course on public policy and veterans. Dillon is also active with the Kennedy Forum on Mental Health.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

CMSI: There are things military service members learn that can come in handy during times like this. What do they inherently learn about how to survive and thrive?

Dillon: The services teach adaptability and the ability to change at a moment’s notice from plans that aren’t working. My father always said, “Every problem has a solution. It just takes the mental acuity to find that and then the guts to act on it.” And I think that was good advice. And that’s going to get you through this crisis and the other problems that you might face in the future.

CMSI: Beyond the service members, it seems their families learn some of those same techniques for resilience and adaptability.

Dillon: Yes. Families serve and they just don’t always get the credit. And they sure should, because it takes a lot of character to be a military spouse or child in a military service family.

CMSI: What does service teach you about calling for help when you need help?

Dillon: The service teaches you there are no weaknesses allowed. “Hundred percent ready for duty!” And people confuse depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury as weaknesses. They are not. They are diseases just like diabetes and heart disease, and other physical diseases. They can either be cured or at least the symptoms alleviated.

It’s the strong service member, it’s the strong family member, It’s the strong child who asks for help. It’s the weak service member, the weak family member who hides that and puts their family – and by extension, their unit and friends and neighbors – in jeopardy.

Break the silence. These are not weaknesses. It takes courage to ask for help.

Duke Clinical Research Institute photo by Brent Lyon