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18 Nov 2020

Caring for a Service Member: The Importance of Community and Self-care

Due to traumatic brain injury (TBI) or polytrauma (i.e., multiple traumatic experiences), our Service members sometimes require specialized, long-term care from caregivers who can be family members, friends, or aids. These caregivers are often responsible for assisting Service members with tasks involved in everyday living such as bathing, dressing, transporting, and more. To draw attention to the vital role caregivers play in Service members’ lives, we will highlight issues surrounding the stigma of being a caregiver for Service members, and the difficulties they face, along with resources available to them.

Stigma of Caregiving for a Service Member with a TBI

Research has found that caregivers of Service members tend to experience a stigma associated with caregiving. A recent study found that about 35% of caregivers reported experiencing stigma by association; that is, simply experiencing stigma by being affiliated with a Service member with a TBI. Stigma and negative attitudes can be shown as discomfort around, and avoidance of, Veterans with TBI and their families. Stigma among caregivers can potentially contribute to:

  • Caregiver strain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Lower self-esteem

Stigma also makes it more difficult for Veterans to feel connected to their community. As a caregiver assisting a Veteran with a TBI reintegrate into society, it may be helpful to:

  • Connect with others
  • Practice self-care
  • Use available resources

Connecting with Others:

One way to cope with the stigma of caregiving for a Veteran with a TBI is to find other caregivers who might be in a similar situation. It is important to create relationships with individuals in similar situations to combat feelings of loneliness. Connecting with others may be beneficial for both the caregiver and Veteran. Caregivers can find support groups in their community where they can spend time with other caregivers who will normalize their experiences. Caregivers who are unable to participate in an in-person peer support group may utilize virtual support groups to connect with other military caregivers.

Practicing Self-care:

It is important for caregivers to take care of themselves. Creating self-care habits is another great way to ensure caregivers meet their own needs and refuel when needed. Caregivers can practice mental health “checks” to identify daily needs and assess their emotional well-being. Simple habits such as calling a friend or choosing to rest instead of running errands may lower stress. Daily practices such as setting aside time to shower, going on walks, or preparing balanced meals are useful in promoting mental health and well-being. It is also beneficial to share the load of caregiving responsibilities. For example, asking another family member or friend to share caregiving responsibility allows the primary caregiver to take the needed time for themselves to avoid burnout.

Using available resources:

There are many resources available for military caregivers. Resources range from peer support groups to family counseling and financial assistance. Using the resources and programs available to military caregivers may help to lighten the load and stress of caregiving. Check out the Caregiver Resource Directory for various caregiver resources and ways to get connected.

Caregivers are crucial to the support of Service members who have suffered from a TBI or polytrauma, so it is important that they have access to resources and tools to avoid burnout. Military One Source may be one particularly helpful resource, as they are continually updating their resources. By finding connections with others, investing time in self-care, and utilizing available resources, caregivers can routinely check in on themselves to ensure they are managing the stigma of caregiving for a Veteran with TBI, and effectively fulfilling their caregiver role.

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