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The Elephant in the Room: Suicidality Among Military Caregivers

The Elephant in the Room: Suicidality Among Military Caregivers
Caregiver Blog

By Dr. Roxana Delgado & Dr. Kimberly Peacock

“Caregivers are our first line of defense in protecting veterans from taking their own lives. They provide physical and emotional support in good times and bad, and are the first ones by their veteran’s side when an emergency occurs. Although caregivers provide comprehensive support, we must remember – at all times – that the vast majority of these men and women are not professional social workers, or healthcare providers. The complicated, all-consuming pressure that comes with caregiving is enormous. And for military and veteran caregivers who often assist care recipients with complex invisible wounds, the toll it takes on their own emotional well-being is far higher.” – Senator Elizabeth Dole

Suicide among veterans is known to be high, and a catastrophic event to their family and this Nation. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, as many as 20 veterans take their own life each day. The RAND Report “Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers” commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, found that military caregivers reported symptoms of depression, anxiety and other behavioral health conditions at a higher rate than other group of caregivers. These behavioral health symptoms may be accompanied by hopelessness, despair and isolation, a recipe associated to suicide.

How much do we know about suicide among military caregivers? Not much, beyond anecdotal evidence. Our Nation’s Hidden Heroes are facing the challenges of assisting veterans with long-term and many times deteriorating health conditions. Have you heard of a Hidden Hero caring for a veteran with suicidal ideation or in “suicide mode” (as often referred to)? Or, have you listened to the stories of sleep deprivation because of “pulling suicide watch”, or mitigating a night of terror and nightmares? Who is raising awareness about this and who is willing to start this conversation?

Senator Elizabeth Dole has been raising awareness about suicide ideation among military caregivers, especially during the 2016 National Veteran Summit in Washington DC. Her commitment to bringing awareness and finding solutions is unparalleled. However, until now, there were no studies addressing suicide among military caregivers. Senator Dole’s call to action served as inspiration to conduct a “Military Caregiver Health Assessment Study,” specifically exploring suicidality among military caregivers.

A staggering 23.9% of military caregivers that participated in the study reported that since becoming a caregiver they either attempted or had thoughts about harming themselves. This high prevalence in a sample of 467 military caregivers is more than what we predicted, based on existing studies among civilian caregivers and the general population.

So what are the next steps? We are confident that by sharing this information, organizations will answer the call to action by developing and implementing evidence-based programs throughout the nation that can prevent suicidality among military caregivers.  It is imperative that as we aim to attend the mental health of veterans, we reach out to their caregivers as well. As research has shown, strengthening the health and wellbeing of caregivers is beneficial to the care recipient. We can’t ignore a problem that may impact generations to come. Suicide can be prevented and all together can make a difference in the life of a Hidden Hero.

If you are a military caregiver, and you can relate to this, we encourage you to find someone you trust to help you find assistance. The good news is that there is a community of organizations that would like to assist you in finding your optimal health.


For more information about local resources:

Hidden Heroes Directory

Military Caregiver Telehealth Program for Texas Caregivers

Give an Hour

Blog provided by:

Roxana E. Delgado, Ph.D. is a Health Scientist and Elizabeth Dole Fellow Alumna in Texas. Dr. Delgado is the Principal Investigator of the “Military Caregivers Health Assessment: Caring for Wounded, Ill and Injured Service Members and Veterans” study and a Fellow at the Military Health Institute, University of Texas Health San Antonio, School of Medicine. Dr. Delgado is the wife of a Purple Heart Recipient, SFC (Ret.) Victor Medina, wounded on June 29, 2009.

Kimberly Peacock, Ed.D. is the co-investigator of the “Military Caregivers Health Assessment: Caring for Wounded, Ill and Injured Service Members and Veterans” study and a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Texas Health San Antonio, School of Medicine. Additionally, Dr. Peacock is a Gold Star wife and a U.S. Marine mom.