Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Children of Soldiers Fight Battles of Stress

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Children of Soldiers Fight Battles of Stress

Article excerpt


BOSTON - In addition to the day-to-day stresses faced by most families, the children of active-duty service members must cope with the uncertainties of multiple deployments and the possibility that the parent will sustain life-altering injuries, develop mental illness, or die, according to a psychiatrist who studies and treats military families.

Of the more than 2.2 million U.S. service members on active duty, 44% have children, and two-thirds of those children are under age 11, noted Dr. Stephen J. Cozza, professor of psychiatry and associate director of the center for the study of traumatic stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

"Military kids are our nation's kids; They serve as their parents serve, and also they're our future, in the fact that more than any other youth group in the United States, military kids select military careers," he said.

Military families are protected from some common stressors, because they receive steady incomes, housing, and free medical care, and have access to many personal and community services. At the same time, however, they are buffeted by the stresses of deployments, relocations, separation from extended family, and in the case of National Guard and Reserve members, fewer community support systems, Dr. Cozza noted.

He cited a 2008 Department of Defense survey of 13,000 spouses of active-duty service members, which showed that while 53% said they felt their children coped well or very well with the absence of one parent, 23% felt that their children coped poorly or very poorly. The spouses also reported that 60% of the children had increased fear or anxiety, 57% had increased behavior problems at home, 38% had decreases in academic performance, and 36% had increased problems at school.

Other studies have shown that children of deployed parents have higher degrees of emotional difficulties than national samples and more problems with school, family, and peers (J. Adolesc. Health 2010;46:218-23), and that parental stress and cumulative length of deployment predict depression and behavioral symptoms in children (J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 2010;49: 310-20).

Lengthy deployments create what are essentially single-parent families, with the at-home spouse left to cope with running a household as well as dealing with anxiety and personal stress. In some families, the stresses of long and/or frequent deployments can lead to child maltreatment, often in the form of neglect, Dr. …

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