Senator Elizabeth Dole addressed the issue of suicide among caregivers at this month’s national summit on veteran suicide prevention, hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Despite the attention veteran suicide has received since suicide numbers began rising at an alarming rate in recent years, caregivers had never before been so fully integrated into the discussion. The VA’s decision to invite Senator Dole to represent our nation’s hidden heroes was a significant recognition of the invaluable role caregivers play in preventing suicide, and their own vulnerability to suicidal thoughts and actions.
Senator Dole opened her remarks with an affirmation that suicide among caregivers was a grave concern. While the subject is still shrouded in stigma and secrecy, she confirmed that a growing number of caregivers were coming forward about their own struggles with this issue. “Suicidal ideations among caregivers are real. Our need to respond is urgent.”
The Senator explained how caregivers can often take on the symptoms of veterans struggling with severe PTS, survivor’s guilt, and other invisible wounds. “Caregivers become hyper alert for potential triggers. In many cases, they become more sensitive than the veterans themselves. Veterans may only occasionally react to triggers, while caregivers put up their guard with every potential risk factor. This is a real and debilitating phenomenon facing our caregivers—many for the rest of their lives.”
Senator Dole and our Foundation team were heartened to see how the summit participants and the many people continuing the dialogue online immediately embraced caregivers as an important part of this issue. We hope it nurtures a more open discussion about this topic in a way that reduces feelings of isolation among those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and ultimately improves the emotional health of both caregivers and veterans.