By Debbie Gregory.
After a decade of war and repeated deployments, a new study is highlighting the affects of a parent’s wartime deployment on young children at home. An American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report shows that one in four children of active-duty service members have symptoms of depression. One in three children experience excessive worry, and half of children have trouble sleeping. The report was published in the June issue of the journal, Pediatrics.
“In the past 10 years, more than 2 million children in the U.S. have experienced the emotional and stressful event of being separated from a loved one deployed for active duty,” report co-author Dr. Beth Ellen Davis said in a press release. “Most children cope and adapt quite well, but all children experience a heightened sense of fear and worry during a parent’s deployment.”
AAP experts said during deployments, preschoolers may become anxious and withdrawn. Older children between the ages of 5 and 17 have a greater risk of emotional and behavioral problems when a parent deploys. Extended or repeated deployments can often make the behavior, and the family’s situation, worse.
When children stress and act out, the caregiver at home feels increased stress as well. Experts say that stress can then affect the mental health and well-being of the children they are caring for. The problem can be compounded further when there are other psychological issues in the family, experts noted.
AAP experts said half of all military children are cared for by non-military pediatricians through the course of their parent’s deployment. The AAP stresses the importance of all doctors, even those not located on or near a base, in understanding and recognizing the mental–health needs of military family members who are under the strain of deployment – whether the deployed is a father, husband or extended family member.
It’s important for pediatricians caring for these families to be aware of the family’s situation so that they can guide them appropriately,” Davis said in the release.
Dr. Benjamin Siegel, co-author of the report, said in a news release “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.”