NW PA Counties graphicThe Northwest Pennsylvania (NW PA) Veteran Suicide Prevention Program operates on a three-pronged approach involving healthcare providers, community organizations, and Veterans and their families in the 15 counties of NW PA. Because of this focus, we want to share this recent story by VA regarding increasing awareness for Veteran caregivers. Community Building Art Works (CBAW) is a Veteran service organization that builds healthy and connected communities through free online workshops led by professional artists. Veterans and civilians share creative expression, mutual understanding and support. In partnership with Blue Star Families, CBAW offers writing workshops two Thursdays a month. Visit their website for a full up-to-date schedule.

Read time: 3 minutes

Helping Military Caregivers Overcome Loneliness

By Ben Weakley
Director of Development, Community Building Art Works

View original article

having difficult conversations imageNo one knows the struggle of caring for an injured or ill loved one quite like caregivers of Veterans and military service members. The caregiver’s role is challenging and emotionally demanding, often leading to burnout and stress.

Providing for the needs of injured Veterans and military service members can be emotionally taxing. The daily stress, physical demands and emotional toll of caregiving can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues among caregivers. Specifically, empirical studies show that informal caregiving for another adult is associated with higher levels of loneliness and social isolation for the caregiver.

Loneliness and social isolation are more than just negative feelings. Research demonstrates strong links between loneliness, social isolation and chronic health risks, with impacts on a person’s long-term health as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

Expressive writing as a bridge to community

women veterans talkingExpressive writing, the practice of pouring out one’s thoughts and emotions onto paper, has been shown to be an effective tool for improving mental health. For caregivers of Veterans, writing provides an opportunity to reflect on their experiences, process their emotions and release pent-up feelings.

Patti Katter knows first-hand how transformational the act of writing and sharing one’s story can be. A caregiver to her husband Ken, who was wounded in Iraq in 2007 while serving in the Army, Katter loved writing since early childhood. She says that keeping a scrapbook and journal while her husband was deployed helped her.

“After Ken was wounded, my writing days almost vanished,” she said. “In fact, I almost vanished. I was exhausted dealing with the red tape Ken experienced with his health care.”

When she heard about “We Carry On,” a series of expressive writing workshops held by Community Building Art Works in partnership with Wounded Warrior Project, specifically for caregivers of Veterans and military personnel, she was ready to reconnect with her love for the written and spoken word.

“It wasn’t like a normal caregiver workshop,” she said. “They focused on helping us write. I unearthed some pretty raw emotions during that time.”

While Katter says the experience of writing and sharing her story was raw and emotional, it led her to a place of healing and greater happiness.

“I began thinking about all of the hard crap I went through,” she said. “Little did I know [it was] the first step of… being able to actually do what I wanted to do, which was write, [and] was to start giving me that light I needed again.”

When practicing writing together with others coming from similar experiences, however, caregivers can choose to share their words out loud, giving them an outlet to say what might be otherwise inexpressible in their daily lives.

Caregivers who write better understand their emotions, develop resilience and maintain their mental health.

“I finally took my spiritual, mental and physical health into my own hands” after sharing her story, Katter said.

The power of art making in healing

student veterans groupArt making is another powerful means of promoting mental health among Veterans and their caregivers. It encourages creativity and self-expression, offering an escape from the stressors of caregiving and the trauma of military service.

Engaging in various forms of art—such as painting, sculpture or music—can serve as a non-verbal way to process their experiences and emotions. Art can provide a sense of achievement and self-worth, helping caregivers regain confidence and control over their lives.

Art making in community with others can also be an effective tool for relieving caregiver stress and enhancing their overall well-being. Community Building Art Works hosts a weekly visual arts workshop every Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST. In the workshop, military family members and Veteran caregivers can reduce feelings of isolation and connect with others through shared creative experiences. Workshops like this can be a form of self-care, providing respite from the constant demands of caregiving.

The importance of supportive communities

group of people at a lakeIncorporating expressive writing and art making into the lives of Veterans and their caregivers is only the beginning. It’s equally essential to foster supportive communities where people can share their creative expressions and receive encouragement and feedback.

Caregivers can find solace in peer support groups that provide a safe space to share their writings or artwork. These communities not only validate their experiences but also offer an avenue for building connections and camaraderie.

As we celebrate caregivers, let’s remember that their mental health is just as important as the support they provide. By embracing these creative outlets and nurturing a sense of community, we can help Veterans and caregivers not only survive their challenging roles but also thrive in them, ultimately promoting better mental health for all involved.

Looking to Get Involved?

friends standing togetherWhether you identify as a healthcare provider, community organization, or Veteran, there are several opportunities through the NW PA Veteran Suicide Prevention Program and PERU to connect to resources, participate in educational training, and promote harm reduction strategies. We are actively recruiting healthcare and community partners to work with us in meeting our goals and objectives. To learn more, visit the program website at theresilientveteran.org.

Need Help? Know Someone Who Does? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat. Both are free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.


University of Pittsburgh PERU logo