Predeployment Family Concerns and Soldier Well-Being: The Impact of Family Concerns on the Predeployment Well-Being of Canadian Forces Personnel

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ABSTRACT

Recent operational demands have meant that many soldiers spend an increasing amount of time away from home on long, overseas deployments. Past research indicates that family concerns are an important source of stress throughout a deployment, and one of the most significant downsides of a military career. The present study uses structural equation modeling to explore the impact of predeployment family concerns on indices of psychological well-being of Canadian Forces personnel about to deploy on a peacekeeping mission. As expected, family concerns were associated with all measured dimensions of psychological well-being. Family concerns explained 91% of the variance in depression, 68% of hyper-alertness symptoms, 55% of anxiety symptoms, and 60% of the variance in somatic complaints symptoms. Overall, the measurement model explained approximately 88% of the variance within the data for this sample.

Frequent, and sometimes long, separations from family members are a fact of life for most military personnel (Blount, Curry, & Lubin, 1992; Ursano, Holloway, Jones, Rodriguez, & Belenky, 1989). For example, the present climate of international conflict has meant an increase in the total number of peacekeeping missions for many countries--missions that are typically 6 months in duration (Lamerson & Kelloway, 1996). Moreover, due to the downsizing of military forces, many soldiers now deploy more often over the course of their military careers (Castro & Adler, 1999; Lamerson & Kelloway, 1996), meaning even more time spent away from families. Not surprisingly, time away from family is considered to be one of the most significant downsides of a military career. In one study, 82% of respondents listed separation from loved ones as the most negative aspect of a military career (Aldwin, Levenson, & Spiro, 1994).

Several large-scale surveys of American troops have shown that family separation during a deployment can be very stressful (Bartone, 1998; Bartone, Adler, & Viatkus, 1998; Halverson, Bliese, Moore, & Castro, 1995). For instance, Halverson and colleagues found that over 33% of their sample of 3,205 soldiers rated being away from their family 'quite a bit' or 'extremely' stressful (Halverson, et al., 1995; see also Bartone et al., 1998). This same survey showed that over 50% of the married soldiers reported significant stress from concerns or problems regarding their spouses, and almost 66% of the respondents who had children reported significant stress was associated with problems with their children. In some cases, military personnel view family concerns in terms of the conflict between meeting their family's needs and meeting work demands (Bartone et al., 1998).

Interestingly, results also showed that thinking about family was considered by the overwhelming majority of deployed soldiers to be a positive way of coping with the other stressors of the mission. However, while both letters and telephone calls home are considered very positive and important means for coping with deployment stress, difficulties in establishing communications can be significant sources of frustration. Data from the United States showed that phone access in deployment mission theatres can be limited to very inconvenient hours and often is not subsidized. This makes communication with home a difficult and expensive proposition, especially for those in the lower ranks (Halverson et al., 1995).

Family separation is similarly difficult for the spouses and children who remain behind (Blount, et al., 1992; Crumley & Blumethal, 1973). Indeed, at least one study showed that parents who remained behind experienced more distress than did their deployed spouses (Zeff, Lewis, & Hirsch, 1997). As one U.S. military spouse put it: "[b]ased on the previous deployment I knew what to expect: long nights, long weekends and that I'd get every complaint" (USAREUR Circular, 1999). …