Children of Military Service Members at Higher Risk of Mental Issues

First Posted: May 28, 2013 09:12 AM EDT

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that children from military families are at a higher risk of emotional, social and behavioral problems. The risk is even higher if there are pre-existing psychological issues in the family.

The new clinical report addresses these concerns and provides suggestions for pediatricians and health care providers who care for children where one of the family members is serving the military. The study states that before, during and after deployment, half of the children of active duty military service members are taken care of by non-military general pediatricians.

During the past 10 years, nearly 2 million U.S. kids have faced an emotional and stressful event, being far from their family member who is deployed for active duty. Most often, kids cope and get accustomed for the fact quite well, but all of them do face an increased sense of fear and worry during a parent's deployment. It is crucial for pediatricians caring for these families to be conscious of the family's condition, so as to treat them and guide them accordingly, says Beth Ellen Davis, MD, MPH, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement.

In the study, researchers noticed that 1 in 4 kids who belonged to active-duty service members underwent symptoms of depression, 1 in 3 faced excessive worry and 1 in 2 kids had problem sleeping.

Preschool children faced high levels of emotional reactivity, withdrawal and anxiousness when compared to those kids whose parents were not deployed. Those kids belonging to the age group of 5-17 are at a high risk or emotional and behavioral problems. Longer the parental deployment, greater are the emotional issues. Apart from this, caregivers and parents who remain at home also face increased stress, which affects the mental health and well-being of the child.

"By understanding the military family and the stressful experiences of parental wartime deployment, all pediatricians, both active duty and civilian, and other health care providers, can be the 'front line' in caring for U.S. military children and their families," said Benjamin S. Siegel, MD, FAAP, co-author of the clinical report. "Pediatricians play a critical role in identifying how well or poorly a child or family responds to a major stressor such as an extended deployment, and can provide the necessary education and support, including referral to a mental health professional when needed."

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