SAN DIEGO — While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, far too many veterans who may need help do not seek it out.
"I went through many years not wanting to ask for help, being afraid to," said Dr. Dustin Potash, a U.S. Army veteran who served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003, returning home with PTSD.
"I had family and friends who saw something was off, and they said: you need help!"
Dustin finally sought the help he needed and is paying it forward today: serving as veterans director for Adjoin, a San Diego-based non-profit that - as part of its mission - helps secure housing for vets experiencing homelessness.
He said that for veterans experiencing mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression, there is too often a stigma behind seeking help.
"While they're in the military, it's seen as quote-unquote 'weak,' but that's not the truth."
It is a mentality that unfortunately persists after leaving the military.
"It's the strong person who stands up and says, Hey, I have a problem, and I need help for this and starts seeking assistance."
But according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, fewer than half of returning vets in need of mental health treatment s receive it, even though more than forty percent of all vets struggle with their mental health or substance abuse.
Dustin pointed out that -- for those seeking help -- San Diego is a military town.
"There is active duty, there are veterans... so there are a lot of resources that people can reach out to," he said.
A primary resource here at home can be accessed by calling 2-1-1 and identifying yourself as a veteran.
"They will connect you with a place called "Courage to Call." part of the San Diego mental health system, and they will specifically listen to what is going on and get you the appropriate resources."
Often, the hardest part is making that first call: highlighting the need - in many cases -- for loved ones to step in.
"It is a hard conversation with somebody, but if you love and care about them, you need to ask questions," he added. "Be very direct with them because sometimes they won't make that choice themselves."
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