Providing Healing, Promoting Hope is the theme for Women’s History Month 2022. To honor the women who help us heal when we struggle, who provide hope when we need it most or who inspire us somewhere along the way, Give an Hour is featuring women, mental health and their personal journeys in a blog series this month. Please enjoy the second blog below.
As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman. The same holds true for our service members and veterans. For each one, there is a caregiver (and sometimes an entire family) standing behind them to make sure they don’t fall. Not surprisingly, most caregivers are women. And if you think about it, this makes sense. It mirrors the make-up of the military.
In the case of physical injuries, a partner or spouse is immediately thrust into the role of caregiver, whereas the mental health journey is oftentimes more gradual. Nevertheless, according to Shawn Moore, LMSW, caregiver and Give an Hour ambassador, caregiving is performed unconsciously and usually with little to no experience or understanding of the complexities involved. So much so that caregivers often lose themselves in what can be an all-consuming and necessary role.
Shawn’s story is not unlike that of other caregivers. She found herself in a situation in 2017 in which her husband attempted suicide for the first time. While this wasn’t the first mental health crisis for the couple, it was the first of this magnitude. Shawn drew upon her training as a police officer, which she said, “saved his life that day.” She admits her training benefited them both this day to ensure she was able to keep her emotions in check to provide the best support for him.
However, Shawn’s “aha” moment came several years earlier when she found herself talking her husband (boyfriend at the time) out of a flashback. She knew she needed education and help but couldn’t find the necessary resources. The resources she was able to find were either for service members or veterans only or not in her local area. There were no resources specific to caregivers and families. And when you’re in the middle of a crisis, it’s not exactly the ideal time to try Googling for resources.
If you ask, Shawn will tell you that if a vet is struggling, she can almost certainly guarantee that the family is, too.
Initially, she started a local support group as part of a larger national organization. But there were limitations. So, when her husband attempted suicide, Shawn knew this was her calling to start her own nonprofit, Caregivers on the Homefront, and build the kind of support network for caregivers and families that she knew was so desperately needed.
“Our community of caregivers is struggling with their identities,” said Shawn. “Caregiving is a role. It’s not who you are.”
According to Shawn, there are three things we know about caregivers:
- They need to be able to distinguish between their role as a caregiver and their identity as a person.
- Many left things behind (e.g., education, careers) to become caregivers and are unable to support themselves when caregiving ends.
- They want and need to balance life, work and caregiving.
Shawn believes one of her most important roles is as an advocate for caregivers across the country and specifically, in her hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. She considers it important that we educate employers on the needs of caregivers such as remote work, flexible working hours that allow them to attend medical appointments or paid leave. Training organizations on the role a caregiver plays so they “get” caretaking is another crucial step.
Equally important is providing cultural competency training for providers who treat service members and veterans – and who treat their families. There are very specific nuances applicable to service members, veterans and their caregivers.
It’s nearly impossible to get through the caregiving journey without making mental health a priority. Therefore, advocating for a holistic approach to care is how Shawn intends to use her platform as a Give an Hour ambassador. “Give an Hour provides an opportunity for caregivers to receive mental health services that are so desperately needed,” she said. “So often care is directed only to military and veterans and we don’t look past them to the family who also needs care and treatment.”
Shawn said her husband blessed her with a story to tell. She uses her voice or, according to her, the “voice of the 5.5 million caregivers she stands beside” to bring attention to the caregiving journey and all that entails.
“We’re given things for a reason,” said Shawn. “It’s up to us to do something with it and hopefully effect change or help just one other person.” Shawn is moving the needle in a positive direction when it comes to bringing awareness to the difficulties faced by military and veteran caregivers and their families and is no doubt helping countless others in the process.