We say we're grateful for veterans' service, especially on Anzac Day. But do we ask them, "How are you? Really, how are you doing?"
We don't want to pry, even when talking with our own family members. Many of us figure a veteran would've opened up about the stresses of combat if he or she needed to. Often, that doesn't happen.
The vast majority of us - civilians - get our education about the military from news media, movies, books, friends and family. It's how we know serving your country requires a willingness to put others' needs before your own; service members stifle individuality so their unit can function in synchrony.
What happens when veterans carry that same mentality back into civilian life? The stoicism, the service before self, the stereotype of tough guy and gal means some veterans wrestle with the sorrow of experience and loss, or decide the pain is too great to keep living.
Massey University war historian Professor Glyn Harper says mental health problems are one of New Zealand's main legacies from World War I. His research showed damaged men didn't get the support, empathy or treatment they needed. "They were just told 'get on with it' and harden up," he says.
The result, he writes, is an inheritance that continued into future generations, resulting in high rates of depression in the 21st Century. The harden-up approach led to mental illness, suicide, heavy smoking and alcohol abuse when veterans weren't encouraged to talk about what happened to them in war. Medical professionals at the time, Harper says, were just starting to understand a diagnosis of "shell shock", what we now call post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI, or post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD).
Symptoms of PTSD include reliving the traumatic event and flashbacks. Sufferers may avoid situations that remind them of the incident and may become easily startled.
Surely, we're doing much better helping veterans of more recent wars than we did in the early 1900s. Yes and no. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern late last year announced a $1.1 million funding boost to help the Returned and Services Association (RSA) deal with PTSD. The RSA will receive $250,000 a year for four years.
The No Duff organisation, a registered charity committed to providing immediate support for veterans in need, will receive $25,000 a year.
Still, many vets say the Government has fallen short of helping with PTSD. Former SAS soldier and Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata last month said he and other veterans got no PTSD support. "You can't unsee what you see," he told Newshub. "The tragedy, things torn in front of you, the horrors. Even for the incident that I was a part of, I will never forget that. It will live with me until I die." Apiata has formed an organisation called Post Transition highlighting the social value of service personnel to workplaces and companies.
Part of the problem getting veterans help, say Apiata and others, is there's no measure of how big a problem PTSD is for returned soldiers. A recent UK report found 50 serving or former military personnel took their own lives in 2012, more than the number killed in action in Afghanistan.
A University of Otago researcher said there were now more veterans in our community than at any time since World War II, yet research on younger veterans who've served overseas since the 1970s is scarce.
New Zealand Defence Force chief medical officer Dr Paul Nealis last April said rates of mental injury had increased in recent conflict, despite advances in physical protection and care.
"It reflects a change in how war is undertaken and the deliberate targeting of the psychology of the opponent - targeting the will to fight," Nealis said.
It's not prying to ask someone you love to be honest about their feelings. How are they coping? Are they sleeping okay? Getting exercise and socialising? Willingness to get beyond an "I'm fine" response could lead many veterans to seek help.
Responsibility falls on all of us not only to ask the questions, but also to pause and listen to the response. We must also ensure our government provides help where and when our veterans need it most.
Where to get help
Contact your GP or local mental health provider if you're worried about someone's mental health. If you or someone else is at risk of endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• RSA: https://www.rsa.org.nz/support/team
• No Duff: https://www.noduff.org/